Teen Suicide by Peter Newhouse, PhD, LMSW, ACSW
Common Myths of Teen Suicide
- Talking about suicide with depressed or struggling teen may make it worse or even lead to an attempt.
Not true. Talking about suicide doesn’t plant ideas or create problems. The person, if thinking about it, has already been struggling. By talking about suicide, it may calm their thoughts and fears and make how they are feeling less overwhelming.
- Most teens who attempt suicide want to die.
In reality, most suicidal people are in lots of emotional pain and are struggling. Many have mixed feelings about death, but just feel like they can’t escape their negative feelings. Usually a suicide attempt is a desperate cry for help or just not being able to deal with all their emotional pain.
- When a depressed person seems to cheer up, the danger of suicide has passed.
Frequently, this may actually be a sign of relief that the plan is now solidified or the person may finally have the ability or energy needed to carry out their previously conceived plan.
Warning Signs of Teens in Trouble
- Loss of interest in things that use to bring joy or pleasure (i.e. being with friends)
- Major change in grades or focus at school.
- A preoccupation with death (music/art/writings all relate to or focus on death)
- Excessive risk taking.
- Constant thoughts and feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred.
- Giving away of possessions, especially those that were recently important or dear.
- Very negative statements like “I hate this,” I can’t handle this anymore,” or “I wish I was gone.”
- The use or increased use of drugs and alcohol.
- Dramatic or sudden changes in behavior or attitude. (i.e. they don’t care about their appearance or other things that were important)
Note – These signs may not be indicators of a suicidal threat. They may just be an increase in stress, depression, or adjustment to a new situation.
How to Help
- Recognize the clues to suicide.
Watch for indicators of deep depression, hopelessness and major feelings of being overwhelmed. Listen for threats or encrypted (subtle) warnings. Notice if isolation or withdrawal is occurring.
- Trust your own judgment.
If you are concerned or see danger signs, don’t ignore them or have others talk you out of your beliefs.
- Tell others.
Please communicate your concerns and share your knowledge with those you trust. Don’t be afraid to break confidences if you have concerns or specific evidence. You may have to betray a secret to save a life.
- Stay with the suicidal person.
If you believe there is eminent risk, don’t leave the suicidal person alone – especially if there is access to a means for suicide.
- Be supportive.
Show care and support. Listen to the person’s thoughts and feelings. Sometimes letting them process is all they really need. Show true concern and compassion.