By Davi Stein-Kiley, Director of Social Work, Courier & Press, Nov. 24, 2015 –
His face was determined, discouraged. He had written a letter saying goodbye to his family, telling them how much he loved them. He had given his dog a hug and said goodbye. He was ready, he said.
He had dyed his jet-black hair blonde and adopted the habit of frequent porn usage, which infuriated his parents and was hard for him to quit. He lied and stole money. His parents were confused and frustrated, trying to provide love and limits but not gaining any ground.
He was 16, and he had had enough of this life. In the midst of all the conflict, he decided suicide was his best option.
His parents found the note and brought him to the agency I worked for. I asked him what would help him know if life was worth living. He was puzzled but answered, “When things go right.” I asked, “What will tell you when things are going right?”
We sat quietly for a time just listening to our breathing, and the air hung heavily. We spoke of happier times in his life — when he was smaller, when he got his dog, when he and his family went on vacations. We talked about his dreams of owning a motorcycle and having children of his own.
He shared that he felt closed off from his family. He admitted most of that was his own doing. He wanted something different but wasn’t sure where to begin.
When teens struggle, adults can grow weary of finding the right support. In this case, the parents sought outside counseling.
Teens often experiment with risk-taking behaviors — drug and alcohol use, early sexual activity, porn use. Risky choices can yield pain and embarrassment, and many teens prematurely decide suicide is the best way out. This is both tragic and preventable.
We want to keep young people from becoming isolated, lonely and depressed. Parents and caregivers should watch for signs that indicate it’s time for help.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identified strong risk factors for teen suicide as depression, alcohol or drug abuse and aggressive, disruptive behaviors. Ninety percent of individuals who attempt suicide have either depression or substance abuse diagnoses.
One in five teens will seriously think about committing suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Additional factors include family loss, divorce adjustment, dating violence, history of physical or sexual abuse, unplanned pregnancy, sexual orientation confusion and bullying at school.
Suicidal teens often feel hopeless and rejected. They are very vulnerable when there has been a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, an intense argument with parents or some form of humiliation such as not making the team or poor grades. These issues are often hard to uncover, and often professional assistance is needed for a deeper dive into these waters with teens.
Feelings of anger and resentment and the inability to see beyond a temporary situation often lead to suicidal attempts, according to the National Mental Health Association.
What can we do? If any of the concerns listed here resonate with your family, seek assistance right away. Your teen may not be excited about going to a professional, but it sends a message that you are concerned and care. Find time to listen and help teens get counseling when they are discouraged and down. Often the presence of a neutral adult family friend or mentor can provide much-needed listening when times are tense.
When we met again, he said, “I must have really scared you. I didn’t really want to die; I just wasn’t sure what to do.”
Need help with your teen? Visit youthfirstinc.org and look for a Youth First Social Worker at your school. Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, for additional help.