Suicide in Teenagers: Preventing Tragedy
In 2015, a state of emergency was declared on Pine Ridge Reservation after nine people between the ages of 12 and 14 committed suicide in a matter of months. The teenage suicide rate on Pine Ridge is 150% that of the national average, with youth feeling hopeless about their futures.
This month we are featuring an article specially written for True Sioux Hope by Adam Cook, the founder of AdditionHug.org, who shares ways that you can help prevent suicide attempts in your community.
By Adam Cook, July 2016:
Being a teenager is one of the most internally difficult times in a person’s life. Their identities change, they take on more responsibility, and social acceptance from their peers becomes a focal point in their daily life.
With emotions already high, it can seem as though harsh words are the end of the world. Social rejection is not something to be taken lightly. It can cause immense turmoil in any age group, adults included. However, as the suicide rate among teenagers indicates, experiencing rejection can have a deadly consequence. Here are a few ways to identify teenagers who are experiencing social rejection and how you can help prevent suicide.
Talk and Listen.
The most important aspect of preventing suicide is letting the person know you are there to listen. Tell them explicitly that you are a willing ear and that they can trust you with their problems. Of course, you must also show that you are trustworthy as well. Do not discuss what they tell you with others, including friends or family, without their express consent.
Being the person a teen confides in puts you in the unique position to gauge the level of danger a person may be in. While it is important to maintain their confidentiality, if you genuinely feel the person is at risk, there is no shame in seeking help. The best way to do this would be to seek professional help from a counselor or even a hotline. This will keep their privacy intact in relation to friends and family while ensuring the safety of the teen.
Monitor Your Reactions.
It is also critical that you respond well to information they may give you. If the teen confesses to experiencing suicidal thoughts, the worst thing you can do is panic. Common responses from parents are shaming, anger, and dismissal. These will work to exacerbate the problem. Instead, remain calm, ask relevant questions, and keep the conversation centered on the teen, not you.
Too many loved ones will respond by pointing out how the teen’s struggles are affecting them, causing the teen to feel unheard. A negative or self-centered response will guarantee that the teen will never feel safe confiding in you again, leaving them in real danger of injury without your knowledge.
Address Social Needs.
As social beings, humans need positive interaction with others. If the teen in your life is having a difficult time securing a group of friends or options for social contact, help resolve the problem. Help the teen find social opportunities such as hobby groups, gaming clubs, volunteering, a sports league, or any number of readily available group activities.
An activity the teen enjoys is bound to connect them to like-minded individuals, combating depression and reducing the likelihood of suicidal thoughts. Incidentally, social opportunities have the added benefit of limiting the risk of addiction. Social rejection has been shown to greatly increase the chance of a person becoming addicted to any number of substances from alcohol to hard drugs which will, in turn, work to increase the risk of suicide.
Preventing suicide is a task that varies widely depending on the circumstance. However, listening, talking, and addressing the problem are universal characteristics of prevention. In teens, suicide can be more difficult as they may not feel secure confiding in loved ones or they may even simply be dismissed as dramatic. Suicide is never something to be taken lightly. Always seek professional help if you feel you are unequipped to handle the situation and, if possible, create a support network of friends and family.
Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created AddictionHub.org, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.