Suicide is in the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24 years. According to adolescent medicine specialists, suicide among young people is on the rise. And it’s not only the number of kids that are hurting themselves that is so alarming but also the number of suicides that are successfully completed.
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Talking about suicide is both uncomfortable and sad, but the reality is over 42,000 Americans die each year by suicide. This is an average of 117 people per day. And, another 494,000 or more seek treatment for self-harm each year.
Why is suicide on the rise?
There are a number of factors responsible for the rise in suicides over the last several years. Studies indicate it can be contributed primarily to the Internet and technological advances.
With information on the Internet being almost instantly accessible, things like bullying can become quickly destructive. Additionally, when tragedies happen to celebrities, it becomes sensationalized on the Internet and can lead to a spike in very similar incidents across the nation. Plus, the wealth of information available on the Internet makes it easier for kids to die by suicide because a quick search will bring up all the information someone needs to successfully complete suicide.
Other technological advances like smartphones make it harder to develop quality relationships with people, even when they are in the same room. In particular, when families are spending time together, they are often more interested in engaging with their cell phones than with each other, which leads to less meaningful involvement of family members in each other's lives. This can often lead to younger family members feeling unsupported and vulnerable at a time when they are already struggling with self-confidence, physical changes, peer pressure and more.
Know the warning signs of suicide
Suicide warning signs can vary by age, and not all signals may be as visible as others. However, you can help by keeping an eye out for these signs in both adults and young people:
- Sadness, depression and expressions of low self-worth
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Excessive or diminished appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from family and friends; isolating oneself
- Lack of interest in things that were once enjoyable
- Increased drug and alcohol use
- Mood swings
- Focusing on death –such as talking, reading or writing about it
- Cutting or intentional self-harm
Some warning signs of suicide that may be present in young people may also include:
- Declining grades
- Increased lack of motivation to do well in school or be active
- Increased irritability, anger or sensitivity, like crying or tearing up more
- Listening to overly sad or angry music
Advice for parents
The biggest difference in suicide risk between adults and young people is that children are much more reactive. Reactive depression in adolescents includes their vulnerability to external influences, but also the fact that they can seem fine one minute and not okay the next. This is often confusing for parents because they think that their children are just going through normal ‘growing pains’ when the issue could be much deeper.
Experts advise parents to monitor their children. As a child gets older, there should be more monitoring, more engagement and not just asking “How are you” once a day. Know what they’re reading on the Internet and who they’re hanging out with. Have more conversations with their teachers, who get to know them in a different way, and with coaches or other adults who may be mentors in their lives.
Know what to do
If you or a loved one shows any signs of suicidal thoughts or tendencies, seek medical help immediately. Call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), 911 or go to an emergency room.
Mental illness is not stigmatized like it once was, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, tell your doctor. There are very good treatments available including psychotherapy and medications. For those in need of more intensive therapy, residential treatment centers or inpatient psychiatry facilities may be an option.