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Teen suicide attempts can stem from wanting to ‘escape’

Tony felt like dying was the only way out of his miserable life. Things have not been the same since his parents divorced and his mom moved to California.

His dad was working two jobs and seemed stressed out and tired most of the time. They used to get along; now whenever they try to talk, it ends up in a fight.

This week, Tony got his English test back; he got an F. He was afraid of how angry his dad will be when he finds out. In the past, he would talk these things over with his girlfriend, who was also his best friend. But they just broke up and he does not know where to turn. She was his rock, his only real support.

After making a suicide attempt, most teens interviewed revealed that they did it because they were trying to escape from a situation that seemed impossible to overcome, or to get relief from an extremely painful thoughts or feelings. They did not want to die as much as they wanted to escape from what was going on. And at that particular moment, dying seemed like the only way out.

The specific reason behind a teen’s suicide or suicide attempt can be complex. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, surpassed only by accidents and homicide.

The risk of suicide increases significantly when teens have access to firearms at home. According to the KidsHealth Web site, nearly 60 percent of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with a gun.

Suicide rates also differ between males and females. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys do. However, boys die from suicide about four times as often as girls, perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods.

A teen with a sufficient network of friends, family, religious organization, peer groups or extracurricular activities may have an outlet to deal with their frustrations. But many teens don’t believe that they have this type of support and report feeling disconnected and isolated from their loved ones. These teens can be at risk for suicide.

KidsHealth Web site lists the following factors that could increase the risk of suicide among teens:

• Depression, bipolar disorder or other psychological disorders, as well as alcohol and drug use.

• Feeling of distress, irritability or agitation.

• Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

• A previous suicide attempt.

• A family history of depression or suicide.

• Physical or sexual abuse.

• Lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation.

• Dealing with homosexuality in a non-supportive family or community or hostile school environment.

Suicide among teens often occurs following a stressful life event, such as a perceived failure at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict.

A teen who is thinking about suicide might:

• Talk about suicide or death in general.

• Talk about “going away.”

• Talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty.

• Pull away from friends or family.

• Lose the desire to take part in favorite things or activities.

• Have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.

• Experience changes in eating or sleeping habits.

• Self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or driving too fast, for example).

For parents, it’s important to know the warning signs, to keep your eyes and ears open, and to keep the lines of communication with your teen open. If your child confides in you, take his or her concerns seriously. A fight with a friend can be overwhelming and life shattering to a teen.

Do not minimize or discount what your teen is going through; most of all, do not lecture. Listen and show your concern, love and support.

 If your teen does not feel comfortable talking to you, do not take it personally. Instead, suggest a more neutral person such as another relative, a clergy member, school counselor, or your child’s doctor.

 Many people feel that asking someone if they are suicidal may actually put the idea in the person’s head. It is a good idea to ask. Sometimes it helps to explain why you are asking.

For example, you can say, “I’ve noticed that you have been keeping to yourself a lot and talking about wanting to stop the pain. Have you been thinking about trying to kill yourself?”

If you get confirmation that your teen is thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Your doctor, the psychiatric department at the hospital or your local mental health agency can provide good referrals for who to see or where to go. In an emergency, you can call (800) SUICIDE or (800) 999-9999.

If your teen is in a crisis situation, your local emergency room can conduct a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and refer you to the appropriate resources.

If an appointment with a mental health professional has been scheduled, keep the appointment even if your child shares that he/she no longer have the suicidal thoughts. If your teen refuses to go, attend the appointment yourself. The counselor can provide you with valuable information and strategies.

When a teen commits suicide, everyone is affected. Family members, friends, teammates, neighbors and sometimes even those who didn’t know the teen well might experience feelings of grief, confusion, guilt — and the sense that if only they had done something differently, the suicide could have been prevented.

Next week’s article will discuss ways to cope with the loss.

• Tram Vuong Meadows is the Therapeutic Foster Home Program Therapist for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i. She can be reached at tmeadows@haleopio.org, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766.

Questions?

A support group of adults in our Kaua‘i community have “stepped into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families! Please e-mail your questions and concerns facing our youth and families today to Mary Navarro, executive director of Hale ‘Opio, at mnavarro@haleopio.org.

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