September 10, 2015 has been declared Suicide Prevention Day. For many people, suicide remains an abstract problem that plagues other people in other places. But, for local high school students and parents who have lost children to suicide, it is a very real epidemic that affects us all.
Many suicide statistics are conflicting and outdated. The 2013 CDC Fatal Injury Report provides the most recent national statistics available. Two years ago, 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death in America, accounting for one death by suicide every 12.8 minutes. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide, while women make more attempts. The most common method for suicide is firearms at 51%. The highest risk age groups were adults age 45-85. That does not mean our local teens are not at risk.
The Center for Suicide Awareness in Kaukauna reports suicide is now the second leading cause of death for teens surpassing homicide. National averages tell us that one in five teens have thought of suicide, one in six have made a plan, and one in eleven have attempted to take their own life. For every 25 teens who attempt, one dies, creating 6000 teen suicides each year.
I wanted to see for myself if those numbers were accurate in our area. I recently polled 65 high school students throughout the Fox Cities considered to be “at-risk”. Of those polled, 57% of the students reported having thought about suicide and 38% actually made a suicide plan. Seventy-six percent of the students interviewed personally knew someone who committed suicide. While these statistics were gathered from a very small group of teens and may seem extreme, they confirm teen suicide is no longer a distant problem.
While experts do not agree on the ‘cause’ of teen suicide, national organizations have identified key factors contributing to teen death by suicide. Using this list, I polled ordinary area teens to find out what common causes of suicide they struggle with personally. Of the nineteen markers used, five stood out above the others. The number one struggle listed was feeling like a disappointment to parents or others in authority. The second highest response was conflict within immediate family. Other significant struggles were loneliness, feeling guilty or ashamed, and having low or no self worth.
This is good news to parents. It tells us we can fight the rising trend of teen suicide.
Local parents who have lost teens and young adults to suicide urge us not to give up. I asked what they wanted others to know. Parents I interviewed agreed, raising awareness about the warning signs of suicide and prevention education is critical to saving young lives. None of the parents thought suicide would happen in their family and all of them shared regrets of not doing more to help their son or daughter before it was too late. Through their collective tragedies, we can learn five valuable lessons that may save other young lives:
Know the Signs: Educate yourself about the warning signs of suicide. Think through what you could do if you encounter someone who is exhibiting suicidal behavior. Being prepared will prevent hesitating when it matters most.
Be Aware: You will never regret being more connected to your son or daughter or other teens in your life. Listen to what they say. Read between the lines. Get to know their friends and develop relationships with others in their life. Ask probing questions and stay involved. Resist the temptation to ‘give them their space’. Snoop first and apologize later. Be on the look out for significant changes in words, drawings, dress, and behavior.
Be a Friend: Don’t minimize your relationship with a person who exhibits suicidal characteristics or signs of depression. You may be the closest friend they have. Don’t look the other way. Be available and show interest. Share your concerns openly and honestly. Let them know you care. Use encouraging words and combat loneliness and feelings of worthlessness by pursuing them. Your friendship may make the difference between life and death.
Take Action: Don’t be afraid to get involved. Secrets are dangerous. It is better to overreact than carry regret for a lifetime. If you sense someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. If you recognize the warning signs of suicide or learn something personal that makes you believe someone may try to harm him or herself, get help. Tell a teacher, parent, law enforcement officer, or other trusted adult. An anonymous welfare tip is better than no tip and may save a life.
Get Help: If you have suicidal thoughts or feelings yourself, get help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others who can help. You are not alone. Tell a friend, call a helpline, or contact a mental health professional. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There are people available who understand what you are going through and you can recover.
WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE
Suicide signs that warrant an immediate call to 9-1-1:
Threatening to hurt or kill him/herself
Talking, drawing, or writing about wanting to hurt or kill him/herself
Actively seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
Discussing a detailed plan to end their life
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Text messages or social media posts that threaten suicide
Contact a mental health professional or suicide help line if you witness, hear, or see someone exhibiting one or more of these suicidal behaviors:
Feelings of extreme hopelessness
Feeling trapped with no way out
Exhibiting rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities
Increased alcohol or drug use
Feeling like a burden to others
Extreme mood swings
Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
Experiencing anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
Giving away personal belongings
Dramatic mood changes
If you or someone you know is suicidal, help is available and healing is possible.
Adapted from take5tosavelives.org
For more information about suicide prevention, please call or visit these respected suicide prevention resources.
Outagamie County crisis (800) 719-4418
Winnebago County Crisis (920)233-7707
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