Charlotte, a 16-year-old, tried to take her own life three times last year. According to her mother, the girl had been bullied at school and was recently diagnosed with depression. “My daughter was sweet, cheerful, friendly, but when she was 12, she changed,” said her mother.
Charlotte’s story is not unique among youth. According to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 15 percent of Hispanic teenage girls have attempted suicide, compared to 10.7 percent of African American teenage girls and 8.5 percent of White teenage girls.
Twenty-six percent of Hispanic adolescent girls have seriously contemplated suicide, compared to 18.6 percent of African American teen girls and 21 percent of White teen girls, the CDC reports.
Experts argue that acculturation, racism, discrimination, harassment, lack of immigration status in the family, and poverty are some of the factors that can put a young person in a position of vulnerability.
The issue of suicide is complex, and people don’t make an attempt on their lives for just one reason, experts warn. It isn’t a single factor. There are a lot of factors that lead a young person to contemplate or commit suicide. People who have survived a suicide attempt tell us they didn’t want to end their life; they wanted to stop an internal pain that they didn’t know how to stop.
Both experts and parents agree that young people contemplating suicide give off warning signs. It’s important for all parents, family and friends to be educated about this, understanding that depression is a disease like cancer or diabetes.
You have to recognize it and treat it.
Warning signs for suicide
Parents who observe abrupt changes in a child’s behavior, being moody, sad, quiet, should not assume that this is typical adolescent rebellion. Ask about such behavior changes as:
• Isolating themselves from their friends or becoming more mysterious about them.
• Difficulty concentrating, anxiety, lack of appetite, or changes in their sleep patterns.
• Suddenly stopping activities they used to enjoy, such as sports or dancing.
• Changes in the way they dress.
• Starting to give away prized possessions. It’s a way for them to say goodbye to their loved ones.
• Abuse of alcohol or drugs.
• Exhibiting defiant, destructive or aggressive behavior.
• A drop in academic performance.
• Self-destructive behavior such as cutting themselves or having attempted suicide before. The method used doesn’t matter; suicide attempts are not a game and you should seek help immediately.
Advice for parents
Talk openly with your kids and ask them about their feelings and what they are experiencing. Let them know they are important and listen to them without judgment. Take their suicide intention seriously. Eighty percent of people who commit suicide announce it first.
Don’t think that talking about suicide will complicate things. Instead, addressing the issue of suicide and talking about it without showing shock or disapproval can be a great help. Dealing with it openly shows the person that you are taking them seriously and dealing with the severity of their distress.
Don’t assume that the person contemplating suicide doesn’t want help. Don’t let them seek help alone, because they usually aren’t able to.
If your friend or family member tells you they are going to commit suicide, you should act immediately. Don’t leave the person alone. Ask them questions like, “Have you thought about how you are going to do it? Have you already decided when?”
If the person has a definite plan, the risk of suicide is clearly severe. Take him or her to the emergency room of the nearest hospital or mental health clinic and call the police. Seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
— Adapted from a New American Media story