At Risk Youth Are More Likely to Die by Suicide Now than Ever Before
September is recognized as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and perhaps there is no more important time than now to do our part to spread the word. The changes brought about due to the pandemic that began in 2020 have been hard for many to deal with. However, some research is suggesting it is our children who are taking the pandemic the hardest because teen suicide is on the rise. To get involved and get familiar with warning signs of suicide to protect at-risk adolescents in your life, let’s take a closer look at an alarming problem.
Eye-Opening Teen Suicide Statistics
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), suicide among teens has always been a major problem. For children and young adults, all the way through 24 years old, suicide is named as the second-leading cause of death. Teen suicide rates have been on a slow incline since 2016, but there has been a significant uptick in cases since 2018. The number of teens that die by suicide annually rose from 8.9 per 100,000 teens (between 15 and 19) in 2018 to 11.1 per 100,000 in 2020.
While the number of teens that have lost their lives has gone up, the number of suspected suicide attempts shows even more reason to be concerned. Research shows that suspected suicide attempts among girls between 12 and 17 went up 26 percent during summer 2020 and 50 percent at the beginning of 2021. While the number of suicide attempts among boys has remained relatively stable, there is an overall heightened number of mental health-related hospital visits among all teens.
Key Suicide Risk Factors: Why Some Teens Are More at Risk
The typical risk factors for teen suicide have been mostly unchanged for the last several years. However, the pandemic has grossly magnified some of those risks in such a way that more teens could be at risk. The risk factors for teen suicide include:
- Recent, sudden, or serious loss
- Existing psychiatric disorders
- Prior suicide attempts
- Substance use disorder
- Family history of suicide
- Lacking support from family and friends
- Struggling with sexual orientation
- The stigma associated with getting help
- Difficulty finding necessary services
- Access to firearms, pills, or other lethal means
Unfortunately, many facets of living during a pandemic are closely related to suicide risks. For example, many teens have been forced to isolate themselves at home away from their peers or social support networks, some are spending more time in abusive or unstable situations at home, and many are dealing with the loss of life, loss of normal financial support, or even loss of homes due to family illness. The pandemic has also pushed feelings of hopelessness about things getting back to normal. For this reason, it is profoundly important that teen caregivers pay close attention to the mental health of their adolescents.
Warning Signs of Suicide Thoughts with At-Risk Youth
The big question is, how do you know that a teen is contemplating suicide? Teens are notorious for being overdramatic, oftentimes even acting out or mentioning suicide as a means to get some level of attention. Even with that being the case, most teens will show a few warning signs that should be treated as major red flags, such as if the teen:
- Becomes more depressed and withdrawn
- Shows more signs of being anxious or agitated
- Seems apathetic and uninterested in fun activities
- Changing sleep patterns, such as sleeping too much or hardly at all
- Eating habit changes
- Erratic or reckless behavior; poor judgment
- Frequent complaints about physical ailments
- Glorifying death or talking about wanting to die
If you notice any of these warning signs in your teen, it is important to step in and get involved. It is always better to take the situation seriously to be safe than to overlook an issue or blame it on teen “angst” and see the teen attempt to take their own life.
Suicide Prevention During the Pandemic and Beyond
First and foremost, all parents or caregivers of teens must take note—the pandemic is affecting teen mental health and potentially pushing suicide rates up. If you are a parent, pay close attention to your child’s behavior, changes that seem suspicious, or signs that something is wrong.
Remember, teens that have dealt with major losses or changes in their usual routine can be more at risk. So if your teen has dealt with losing a loved one, can no longer hang out with friends, or even feeling fearful about the future beyond the pandemic, these can be risk factors.
Make it a point to talk about suicide. The topic is not always comfortable to bring up, but asking questions and keeping the conversation open can give you a lot of insight into your child’s outlook. Consider asking questions, such as:
- Do you feel more depressed, anxious, or sad than usual?
- Are you or have you ever thought about killing yourself or harming yourself?
- Do you know anyone who thought about suicide or tried to attempt suicide?
These questions will show the teen that you care about what they are feeling or what they are going through. Sometimes, an at-risk teen will find that the talk about suicide helps them face their feelings and open up with you. Sometimes, a teen may just need to know that you care enough to ask.
What to Do for At-Risk Adolescents
As a caregiver, you can take several steps to protect an at risk youth, such as:
- Working to maintain strong social connections – Encourage social outings, phone calls, and even video meetings with friends if necessary
- Restrict access to anything that could place lethal means in your teen’s hands – Firearms, prescription medications, and other weapons should be secured
- Make sure your teen gets mental health care that they need – Family therapy, medication, psychotherapy, or otherwise
- Stay involved – Talk to your teen, help them find effective ways of dealing with their emotions, even if that means just being present for a conversation
All parents, caregivers, friends, and teachers are advised to keep caution in mind when they suspect a teen is suicidal. If you suspect in the slightest that a teen you know is having suicidal thoughts, it is critical to find professionals who can help in the mental health field. Reaching out for help can literally be the difference between life and death.
If you suspect you have an at risk teen who needs help, reach out to us at At Risk Youth programs to be connected with valuable resources that can help.
Public Health Impact: Teen Suicide, America’s Health Rankings, United Health Foundation
Big Rise in Suicide Attempts by U.S. Teen Girls During Pandemic (2021), US News