Beginning the Conversation: Teen Suicide

“Where did I go wrong? / I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness / And I would have stayed up with you all night / Had I known how to save a life.” “How To Save a Life” by The Fray

It has been a tragic week for our community as many were impacted by the suicide of a teen from a local high school. This particular teenager was described as happy and easygoing, so this loss has rocked and taken the community by complete surprise. Whether it is from a story in the news, or from personally losing a classmate/neighbor/colleague/friend/family member, many of us have experienced the painful aftermath of suicide. Popular artists like Nickelback, Rascal Flatts, James Taylor, Green Day, Billy Joel, The Fray, Katy Perry, U2, Linkin Park, are just a few of the many artists that have also been impacted by suicide and have written songs about their experiences. With my heart heavy from this recent loss in my community, I feel the need to begin to address the mountainous topic of suicide.

Suicide is devastating to family, friends, and a community. Loss, due to suicide, leaves a gaping hole; each suicide intimately affects at least six other people. Parents, siblings, classmates, coaches, and neighbors may be left wondering if they could have done something to prevent that young person from turning to suicide. This post is for those contemplating self-harm or suicide, who work with teens, who are acquainted with someone with a mental illness, or who have wanted to just go to sleep and not wake up…in short, this post is for all of us.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (24 hours a day): 1-800-273-8255

It can be hard to remember how it felt to be a teen, caught in between childhood and adulthood. While it is a time of tremendous possibility, it is also a period of great stress and worry. There is intense pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically, and to act responsibly. Young people with mental health problems–such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia–are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Teens going through major life changes–parents’ divorce, moving, a parent leaving home due to military service or parental separation, financial changes–and those who are victims of bullying are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

Suicide rates differ for boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, but they typically do so by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Suicide among boys is four times as common because they tend to use more lethal methods–such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from great heights. Interestingly, in the United States, suicide rates are the highest in the months of March, April, and May.

The risk of suicide increases dramatically when kids and teens have access to firearms at home. Nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. If there is a gun in your home, please ensure that it is unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.

Teens who are thinking about suicide might talk about suicide or death in general. They may give hints that they might not be around anymore or talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty. They tend to pull away from friends or family. They write songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss. They may start giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends. They lose the desire to take part in school, sports, or other favorite activities and things. They may have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly, or experience major changes in eating or sleeping habits. They may increasingly engage in more risky behaviors. Or they may seem to suddenly be “better” or “happy” after a period of hopelessness or depression.

If you are contemplating suicide, please… talk to someone. Ask for help. Make a safety plan. The musician, Billy Joel, once attempted suicide; later he wrote the song, “You’re Only Human” to assure his listeners that better times are ahead: “Don’t forget your second wind. Sooner or later you’ll feel that momentum kick in.” Evaluate your relationships; love and friendship are all about respect. If you are in a toxic or unhealthy relationship, it has the power to negatively affect you and cause you to consider self-harm. Seek help! There are so many resources available. Similarly, if you are being bullied, help is available. You deserve love and respect. You are worth it!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (24 hours a day): 1-800-273-8255

Earlier this week, I woke up to a text message in a family thread about what is referred to as the “Momo Challenge” infiltrating YouTube kids and other online platforms. Parents, please be aware of this challenge! Participants are urged to take photos and videos of themselves completing harmful “challenges” that escalate to incredibly dangerous and even suicidal actions. The creators of these challenges have the intent to harm as they invite their users to do dangerous “challenges.” This is not something to toy with. Please, if you or someone you know has gotten sucked into the Momo Challenge or anything akin to it, please entirely disconnect from it. You do not need to play with knives or engage in other risky behaviors to get love and attention. You are worthy of love and belonging without harming yourself!

There has been a major uptick in teen suicide the last few years. Several teachers at Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, noticed this epidemic and made a slam poem into an inspiring video for their students. In it, the teachers share their past failures and disappointments, as well as how things changed for the better as life continued on. They plead with their students to not harm themselves, to keep going, and to remember their worth. I urge all of you to watch their video as well as to share it on your social media platforms. Here are some of their words:

This isn’t the end. High School was never meant to be the end.

It’s too early to draw the final conclusion. This proof is incomplete. This is not your denouement. It’s not the fourth quarter. This is not the curtain call.

You are more than the sport you play and the one you don’t; more than a GPA, ACT, AP, honors, regular classification on a college application.

You can do this. We believe in you. And when they call your name at graduation, we’ll call you patience. We’ll call you courage. We’ll call you hope and say we saw it all along.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (24 hours a day): 1-800-273-8255

Please, my readers, if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please reach out. There are so many resources and so many people willing to help and listen–despite if you feel alone, helpless, or hopeless. If you feel there is no one else to turn to, please know that I am here as your advocate and your cheerleader. My door is always open! Contact me with questions or click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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