Addressing Adolescent Suicide: Prevention Programs, Awareness, and Support
Suicide is one of the major leading causes of death for young adolescents ages 15-24. Somewhere in America, a child is in their room having suicidal thoughts. They are overthinking if it is worth being alive or if anyone cares if they are gone. Day by day, the thought just keeps spiraling in their head until one night, they finally attempt to disappear. Some succeed in carrying out their plan, but those who do not are able to get a second chance to look for help. Children are dealing with depression and suicidal ideation alone because they believe there is no one they can count on.
Most of the time, parents do not even know their children are going through such things as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Parents and schools should work together to provide a safe environment where teenagers feel comfortable finding the resources they need to talk about their issues. Both high schools and middle schools should implement suicide prevention programs because these programs help inform students about the issue, provide counseling for students who are at risk for suicide and can decrease suicide rates among teenagers.
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Suicide among young adolescents is the most severe health problem faced in the United States. Mental health is overlooked by many parents; most of the time, parents do not know when their children are in distress. Throughout the years, these rates have only been increasing. As of 2017, young adults ages 15-24 had a suicide rate of 14.46 (AFSP). Parents often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide or mental illness and tend to avoid the subject. Organizations have strived to place suicide prevention programs in schools as a resource for students. According to Elizabeth Schilling, affiliated with the American Public Health Association, The SOS Suicide Prevention Program is being held in a few high schools across the United States and has seen a decrease in suicide attempts. Another prevention program, Stop a Suicide Today, is provided at schools and has experienced success in reducing suicide attempts.
The reason for these programs is to help inform, observe, and identify students with warning signs of depression or suicidal behavior. Self-administered questionnaires are completed by students to further evaluate students. Many young adolescents feel like they have no support or feel afraid to reach out for reasons such as thinking adults will not believe them or possibly judge them for the situation. (Schilling). Providing these prevention programs in schools is an informative and interactive opportunity for students and teachers to raise awareness of suicide and depression. It will help start a conversation in the classroom about mental illness and the stigma surrounding suicide. Students’ knowledge is increased, and they are presented with resources available to them to get help for themselves or others. As a parent, family members, teachers, school counselors/administrators, etc., we as a whole community need to step up and cooperate in supporting these young adolescents, fearing to reach out for help.
Providing suicide prevention programs in both high schools and middle schools would help inform students about the issue. Jessica Portner, a publisher from Education Week, suggests that just like schools have effective plans for fire, tornado, or lockdown drills, they should have one for suicide prevention. When it comes to situations like suicide, schools are unprepared to deal with it (Portner). By getting informed, these students can also be a part of helping others they may know are going through suicidal ideations. This idea is also a way for students to understand what others may be feeling because we never truly see what is going on through one’s mind. Some might show signs, for example, a lack of interest in events or hobbies, sleeping more often, or distancing themselves from friends and family.
Counseling for At-Risk Students
In some cases, they hide from what they may be going through. They might act like they are living their best life and have nothing to worry about, but in reality, it might be the complete opposite. Recently, an acquaintance from high school tragically committed suicide. Everyone described him as a happy, loving, hardworking, caring, funny, responsible, and extraordinary person. Someone whom you would never think would do such a thing, but that day, he left a distressful message and never returned home. He was later found dead, and everyone questioned why this tragedy occurred.
You must always check up on friends because you never know what they could truly be feeling. Bill Bernat, a Ted Talk speaker, expresses that sometimes the best way to connect with a friend who is depressed is simply by being there to distract them from their own thoughts. It is tough not knowing what to say to a close friend, but that is why being informed is helpful for situations like these. Having a friend by your side who makes an effort to keep you distracted simply by going shopping, playing sports, or anything you might like are the friends that may help you recover without even trying (Bernat). Not only can friends do this, but so can teachers.
By creating a trustworthy relationship with a student who is going through hardships, the student will feel comfortable enough to confide in the teacher. Sometimes, these young adults cannot confide in a parent because the quality of the relationship contributes to their depression. The closest adult they can confide in is teachers, and that is why teachers should also engage in suicide prevention programs. In Jonathan Singer’s article, a social work professor states that if school staff obtained training in suicide counseling, they would be able to help inform school social workers. It is a lot of responsibility to take as a teacher, but if they are willing to help, it will save many children who are at risk of committing suicide.
Decreasing Suicide Rates
Through these programs’ students are not only being informed, they are also being provided with counseling for those at risk of suicide. Many are too afraid to reach out for counseling, but with these programs, they will either be helped or encouraged to reach for more resources. Hannah Nieskens and Melissa Robbins acknowledge that it takes an immense amount of effort to make suicide prevention a priority in schools. According to Research done at a high school, 31% of students have felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row. Over 20% have sincerely considered attempting suicide, and 10% have attempted suicide (Education Week). Providing a Multi-Tiered System of Support would help identify and support students who are struggling emotionally, academically, socially, or behaviorally (Nieskens & Robbins).
Making teachers’ students’ mental health a responsibility will ensure that they have the amount of support needed to be successful emotionally and academically. Some teenagers avoid speaking about it with a friend because they feel like it would be a burden on them, and they would also not know how to deal with it either. This is another reason teenagers tend to keep everything to themselves, believing they could handle it. Until one day, it becomes overwhelming to the point they have had enough. A young teenager who attempted suicide, Leanne Coiled, states, “I did not want to die…but I was so sick of the routine that I was in. I was kind of in a choice of do I continue to feel how I feel or just end this and not worry about it anymore.”
As every problem begins to pile up, it is something you would rather not deal with any longer. Ivy Kwong, the therapist, analyzes the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Hannah Baker, the main character, reaches out to someone for help: her school counselor. Kwong mentions that the counselor “does not pick up on her signs of depression and instead asks her all sorts of victim blaming and shaming questions. The one adult Hannah reaches out to for help lets her down.” This is a perfect example of why many students are afraid of reaching out; they believe they will not get the support they need. In some cases, counselors may not know how to respond, but having the resources available for any issues that may arise is helpful. All middle schools and high schools should find a way to address how to improve students’ mental health and prevent suicide. It is important for teachers to have resources available in hand to prevent any tragedies.
Breaking the Stigma
Decreasing these suicide rates takes an immense amount of effort and responsibility, but if we do not start to make a change, teen suicide will continue to rise. According to Michael Lindsey, director of Research at the Silver School of Social Work, a study has shown that suicidal behavior is occurring due to some children lacking the necessary resources. While being a part of a team that analyzed data documenting suicidal behavior, Lindsey “suggests that continued concern and attention regarding suicidal behavior among high school youth is warranted.”
In an article by Aaron E. Carroll, he claims that it was the first time in more than 20 years there were more teenagers who died from suicide than homicides in 2011. He goes on to state, “These trends have been known for years. Our response to them has not adequately acknowledged their progression.” As a society, we can support by providing a safer and supportive environment for teenagers, such as at school and at home. Letting those friends or family relatives who are at risk of suicide know that they are not alone and reassuring them that they are worth living. I’m checking up on them here and there to limit isolation.
If you have a friend who you believe is showing signs or signals of suicide, it is best not to hesitate to ask them in a way where they are calm and open to having that conversation. Having patience with them is important because it is something they are not comfortable speaking about. Stephanie Doupnik, a pediatrician and child health advocate, was inspired to understand what it is like for adolescents who seek emergency treatment to prevent suicide (Vox). She and her colleagues conducted a research study to perceive adolescents’ experiences to improve care for them. Many appreciate having someone trustworthy to talk to because all these teenagers want to feel better.
Sometimes, having a supportive professional allows adolescents to feel relieved and well-cared for. Even if it is simply being a supportive friend, family, teacher, etc., they can help improve individuals’ journey toward feeling better. Shayda, a suicide survivor, said, “You can’t read depression on the outside based on how a person is looking. You can smile and feel depressed. You can smile and still feel like you want to die.” We may not know what everyone is going through, but instead, we should not judge a person who might be on the edge of committing something horrific. The least we could do is give them a simple smile or sit down and listen to them. By doing so, we could help make a difference.
Many films, books, and television shows have received backlash for exposing young adults to suicide. Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Christine Moutier, director of The Parents Television Council, who supervises entertainment media, were against the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. They both demanded Netflix to take down the show when it was released in March 2017 for displaying the graphic suicide scene of Hannah Baker. The self-inflicted wounds were too graphic for certain viewers, but it is no different from gruesome movies and violent video games. A recent study examined the series on the apparent effect of internet searches on suicide. Brian Yorkey, the show’s creator, states that the show was created “to tell a story that would help young viewers feel seen and heard and encourage empathy in all who viewed it.”
Although the film was made to help viewers, a positive and negative outcome came to be. As hoped, there were searches like “suicide hotline,” “suicide prevention,” and “teen suicide.” But there were also searches like “how to commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” (The New York Times). A study’s author wrote, “It has increased suicidal awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation” (The Washington Post). It was meant to be a raw and graphic series because it is the crucial truth about what people go through, and it is hard for adults to accept that there are young people dying because of suicide and depression. Many teenagers have actually found the series 13 Reasons Why as an encouragement to start a conversation and reach out for help. Overall, this series has had its ups and downs, but it has definitely opened an opportunity to begin a conversation with young adolescents about difficult issues like suicide and depression.
Encouraging Open Conversations
Some parents are against schools taking advantage of teaching their children about suicide and mental health. According to Jessica Portner, many parents believe situations like suicide or mental health are family matters discussions and not their responsibility to teach them. They believe schools should focus on academic purposes and interfere with their parenting. Parents tend to avoid the topic of suicide or mental illness because some may think it is not an important issue for their children to know; they would rather not speak of an overwhelming subject or are simply not ready to cope with the acceptance of their child having mental health problems (Portner).
This is why young adults are afraid of speaking to their parents about their situation because parents tend to believe they are not dealing with anything and are mentally okay. It is common for parents to sense the need to protect their children from harm. Who would want their children to suffer from mental illness? Sometimes, trying to protect your children is not the best idea because it can turn out to worsen the situation. Parents want to believe their children are always healthy and have no distress, even at such a young age as 15. They might also confuse a teenager’s change of character as just a phase, or they will get over it.
However, ignoring the truth will only lead to a point where you can no longer ignore it. Leading parents to say, “I had no idea; I never thought they would do that.” This only makes parents feel disappointed and start blaming themselves for noticing when it was too late, wishing their kid would have just said something. The best you can do for your children is to inform and observe them for any symptoms. It does not hurt to ask your kid if they are okay or if something is wrong. You want your kids to feel like they can trust you and count on you for support. Not only will it be easier to prevent a tragedy, but both the parent and child will be well informed of the support systems available.
The rates of teen suicides and suicide attempts are on the rise and will continue to increase if we as a society do not begin to make an effort to prevent these tragedies. Many people fear talking about mental illness and suicide when it should be our job to remove its stigma. If we continue to avoid this conversation, it will only endure a worse outcome. Suicide has become the most concerning health problem faced in the United States. Providing prevention programs in both middle schools and high schools will benefit students by providing knowledge about depression and suicide. Students will learn how to seek help for themselves or a friend and how to overcome obstacles preventing them from seeking help. Our community can do so much simply by cooperating in guiding these young adults to feel better. If we do this, we can save a life and make them feel cared for instead of having them feel hopeless in their room and having suicidal thoughts.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) URL: https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/
- Schilling, E.(American Public Health Association). Suicide Prevention Programs in Schools: A Policy Brief. [PDF Document] URL: https://www.apha.org/~/media/files/pdf/factsheets/suicide%20prevention%20school%20policy%20brief.ashx
- Portner, J. (Education Week). Schools Struggle to Find Best Ways to Address Students’ Mental Health. [Website] URL: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/schools-struggle-to-find-best-ways-to-address-students-mental-health/2006/02
- Bernat, B. (TED Talk). How Conversations Can Save Lives. [TED Talk Video URL: https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_bernat_how_conversations_can_save_lives
- Nieskens, H. & Robbins, M. Creating a Safe Space: What Schools Can Do to Help Prevent Teen Suicide. [Website] URL: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/creating-a-safe-space-what-schools-can-do-to-help-prevent-teen-suicide/2021/08