No one likes talking about teen suicide. It’s such a hard thing to think about that many of us simply ignore it and hope that they problem will go away by itself.
I get it. Nobody wants to think that suicide is something that happen in their family. It’s completely abstract. It only happens in other places and to other people.
But the problem is very real. More teens die every year from suicide than cancer, pneumonia, influenza, chronic lung disease, heart disease, AIDS, and birth defects combined. But the stigma is getting in the way of prevention - there’s a lot of misinformation around that is making it harder for teens at risk to get the help that they need.
Breaking down the misconceptions regarding teen suicide can make a massive difference. Understanding suicide will help you have meaningful conversations with your teen about the subject and help you prevent any issues should they arise.
Myth 1: Teens who threaten to commit suicide are just looking for attention
First things first: When a teen threatens to commit suicide it’s incredibly important to take them seriously. Teens often hide their issues from parents or peers, so when they talk about suicide make sure to listen carefully, it's often a plea for help and a sign that they are progressing towards a suicide attempt.
Myth 2: Nothing can stop a teen once they decide to commit suicide
No one takes their own life without having second thoughts. People can be helped. That is why it's important for family, friends, and medical professionals to be there with the person, attempt to understand where they’re coming from, help them see a better future and then convince them to change their mind.
Myth 3: Talking to teens about suicide increases their risk
Many people fear that talking about suicide is contagious, but asking teens questions and talking about suicide won’t suddenly compel a teen to commit suicide. On the other hand, it can make a teen that is struggling with suicidal thoughts feel relieved and more comfortable with opening up and getting help.
Myth 4: Teens who aren't successful in completing suicide weren't serious
Teens that attempt to commit suicide are trying to stop feeling pain, and an unsuccessful attempt doesn’t change that. In fact, teens that attempt suicide are at a high risk of trying again, and the second time is more likely to be lethal.
Myth 5: Teens that commit suicide always suffer from depression
While depression is a major risk factor, there are times when teens attempt suicide without suffering from the condition. Oftentimes, suicide attempts are a reaction to sudden, stressful events, and have nothing to do with depression at all. In addition, teens that are suffering from depression often display symptoms differently than adults. They don’t always look sad - they often act irritable and withdrawn and might even seem happy.
Myth 6: Suicide is the result of a lot of careful planning
Suicide can be the result of planning, but in many cases suicide attempts are an impulsive response to an extremely painful or stressful event like a breakup, being bullied, or feeling rejected or humiliated.
Myth 7: Suicide among teens is rare
Teen suicide is actually a lot more common than you would imagine. Many stories don’t make the news and families value their privacy after such traumatic events, but the teen suicide rate has nearly doubled since 07.
Myth 8: A suicide plan doesn't mean a teen is actually at risk of following through
Making a suicide plan is a major risk factor for suicide and should never be taken lightly. A teen that has specific plan for how they’ll take their own life is at serious risk. Mental health professionals treat this step as a sign that a teen is in immediate danger and urgent steps are needed to make sure they stay safe.
Myth 9: Only certain types of people kill themselves
Suicide doesn’t discriminate. It’s something that can happen to anybody, regardless of their gender, race, upbringing, education, ethnicity, or socioeconomic level. Of course, there are some risk factors for suicide that are hereditary, but all people are susceptible to having suicidal thoughts and even taking their own life.
Myth 10: People thinking of suicide don’t seek help
Recent research has shown that troubled teens actually sought out help more than once, but after not getting the support they needed, went ahead with their plan to commit suicide. Many times, the victims spoke with therapists a couple months before. However, doctors can only do so much. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual and their family to work through the issue and remove the triggers that are pushing them towards suicide.
Start a conversation
Nothing is more important than this. The more we ignore teen suicide the less prepared to deal with the issue when and if it does arise. Sit down with your teen and have a in depth conversation about mental health, depression, and how to deal with potential stressors. A good way to broach the subject is to talk about popular tv shows like ‘13 Reasons Why’ or news stories that address the issue.
If you have concerns that your child might be thinking about attempting suicide, speak with your child’s doctor or psychologist, and read through some of these incredible resources.