She was young, beautiful, intelligent, from a loving family, and popular with her peers. Life was at its best. Every possibility for happiness, success, and great accomplishments stood before her, but then a tragedy took place. On a fateful day in 2003 she and her mother were trapped in a burning building. They were standing side by side; she was saved but her mother was not. The last voice she heard was that of her mother calling her name, something she would never forget. She could not reconcile the fact that they were physically together, but that her mother was not rescued. She became physically ill from the effects of the smoke, and coupled with the emotional pain of the loss of her mother it led to a deep and lingering depression that spiraled into her own suicidal demise. One common reason a teenager will commit suicide lies in the fact that many of them suffer from depression, or from a bad situation. For her it just hurt too much to live.
Leading Cause of Death Among Teenagers
One of the leading causes of death among teenagers is suicide. The Center for Disease Control reports that it is the third leading cause of death in the age group 15-24 after accidents and homicides. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.1 Teen suicide is a very real issue today in the United States.
Steinberg reports in his research that up to 10 percent of adolescents have attempted suicide at some point, but even more have considered it. There are four general risk factors, and they seem to apply to both male and female African-American, Latino, and White adolescents: Depression and substance abuse, history of suicide in the family, being under stress, and family rejection or conflict. Having more than one of these risk factors is especially dangerous.2
Woolfolk says that suicide often comes as a response to life’s problems that parents and teachers sometimes dismiss.3
There are many warning signs that something is amiss. It is important to be aware of changes that the young person is experiencing that may include:
Changes in eating or sleeping habits
Extreme changes in weight
Changes in their usual mood or temperament
Students at risk for suicide sometimes suddenly give away prized possessions, such as iPods, CDs, clothing, or pets. They seem depressed or hyper-active and may say things such as “Nothing matters anymore,” “You won’t have to worry about me anymore,” or “I wonder what dying is like.” They may start missing school or quit doing work. It is especially dangerous if the young person not only talks about suicide but also has a plan for carrying it out.4
Myths and Facts About Suicide
Myth: People who talk about suicide don’t kill themselves.
Fact: Eight out of 10 people who commit suicide tell someone that they’re thinking about hurting themselves before they actually do it.
Myth: When a person talks about suicide, you should change the subject to get his or her mind off of it.
Fact: You should take them seriously. Listen carefully to what they are saying. Give them a chance to express their feelings. Let them know you are concerned, and help them get help.
Myth: Most people who kill themselves really want to die.
Fact: Most people who kill themselves are confused about whether they want to die. Suicide is often intended as a cry for help.5
Ways to Prevent Suicide
Fortunately, teenage depression can be treated, and as a concerned parent, teacher, or friend there are many things you can do to help. You can start by learning the symptoms of depression and expressing concern when you spot warning signs. Talking about the problem and offering support can go a long way toward getting your teenager back on track.6 Prayer, extensive reading on the subject, talking to professionals, and willingness to listen and get help for the suffering person are some of the ways to prevent teenage suicide. When we are successful in helping teenagers to see that it does not hurt too much to live, they can experience what some suicide attempters have called “a bonus life, and a rebirth, a new beginning.”7
Someday this will end; we have hope and assurance in the Word of God. Revelation 21:4 says: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Praise God! There will be no more suicide.