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Teen Suicide: Is Your Child At Risk?
You might expect to find depressing news when you check web feeds or the national news, but in recent months, the rise in stories of teenagers committing suicide has left people across the country distraught and saddened. The recent events surrounding the death of Tyler Clementi, an up-and-coming musician and student at Rutgers, have inspired friends and even celebrities to publicly call for ways to prevent future, needless deaths. To paraphrase Ellen DeGeneres talking about these recent suicides, when one teenager kills himself, it’s a tragedy, when several commit it, it’s a crisis.
As a parent of a teenager, you may be able to empathize with your child, having lived through awkward years and what at the time seemed like an inordinate amount of stress. From age 10 through college, young people are subject to varying degrees of pressure—the drive to do well in school, the desire to be accepted by their peers, and the goals to succeed in sports, music, and other passions. When things don’t seem to be going their way, despondency can lead some to believe that the only solution is to permanently remove themselves from the situation and life.
To work to prevent teen suicide, it is important to understand what prompts a young person to consider and pursue it. Some events that can lead to a teenager taking their own life include:
1) Persistent bullying. Unfortunately, recent news reports show an increase in this behavior. Teens who are teased about their religion, sexual orientation, weight, economic status, and other reasons can allow themselves to be ridiculed and consumed. Some, like Phoebe Prince, decide there is no relief from cruel teasing.
2) Depression and similar disorders. Teenagers who suffer from clinical depression or other mental illnesses are usually at higher risk. Smaller problems like failing a test or being kicked off a sports team can appear as bigger problems that prove too much to bear.
3) Unrelated illness or accidents. Some teenagers who survive accidents and become scarred or lose a limb may think they are permanently damaged or useless and choose death over a life of disability.
4) Problems at home. Parental divorce, financial problems and the death of a loved one are attributed to self-inflicted deaths of some teenagers. For example, if a sibling or parent dies suddenly, the depression and grief that follows can force a person to find peace in such a way.
True, teenagers who have suffered from any of the above may not have suicidal thoughts, but if you are concerned about your child’s mental health, it is important to look for the signs and take action to get your child the help they need to deal with their problems. . Some things to look out for are:
1) Obvious changes in behavior at home and at school. Does your child seem happier and quieter? He may be less willing to participate in school events or socialize, and his grades may have dropped severely.
2) Loss of interest in activities. If your child used to live for playing a favorite sport or musical instrument, but no longer practices or plays, this should alert you that something is wrong.
3) Changes in appearance. Your teenager may not be as meticulous about dressing and grooming, or may have less of an appetite. Such self-deprecating behavior may indicate apathy towards life in general.
4) Extreme, unusual behavior and dialogue. Listen to your teenager. If you start to hear suggestions that the world is better off without them, or vocal wishes to die, don’t dismiss them as mere anxiety. If you notice that your teen has been giving away prized possessions, this may indicate “sorting things out” before they take action.
Although the signs mentioned above are indicative of other behaviors, it is safe to take action and talk to your teen. If you can’t get him to open up to you, consult with a professional who specializes in suicide prevention.
Above all, be there and let your child know that he is loved, and that the problems he is experiencing now will fade in importance and severity over time. A popular mantra says, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Make sure they know it.
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