Happy Students: Suicide all too frequent among youth

Charles Jackard
Charles Jackard

By Charles Jackard, EdD

First, some suicide statistics:

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2013 CDC)
  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2013 CDC)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12.
  • Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs

Experts say that suicide probably occurs three times more often than the reported figures, and that the attempts are most likely10 times more frequent than the reported deaths. Suicide is the most dramatic alternative to dealing with problems, whatever the problem might be. And that leads to another disturbing observation: the stigma of suicide keeps many people in denial about it, both the suicidal person, and any other person in a position to deal with them, such as educators, friends and especially parents.

Some warning signs include:

  • The recent suicide, or death by other means, of a friend or relative.
  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • Preoccupation with themes of death or expressing suicidal thoughts.
  • Depression, conduct disorder and problems with adjustment such as substance abuse, particularly when two or more of these are present.
  • Giving away prized possessions, making a will or other final arrangements.
  • Major changes in sleep patterns – too much or too little.
  • Sudden and extreme changes in eating habits, losing or gaining weight.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family or other major behavioral changes.
  • Dropping out of group activities.
  • Personality changes such as nervousness, outbursts of anger.
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior, or apathy about appearance or health.
  • Frequent irritability or unexplained crying.
  • Lingering expressions of unworthiness or failure.
  • Lack of interest in the future.

Steps and strategies for assisting those who are thinking of suicide

Suicide is one of the most difficult subjects to deal with and the hardest to put in words. Suicidal clues are generally divided into three areas: verbal, behavioral and situational. Always tell somebody, anybody, if you have the slightest inkling if a person is considering or might consider suicide. Become a “helper” to a person in dire need, and who is reaching out. Encourage the person to talk about the problems and dilemmas that are going on in their life. Strongly urge the person to seek professional help.

Never ignore or deny the person’s expressed feelings. Whatever others say they feel is real to them, even if it seems irrational or wrong to you. In almost every situation as a “helper,” work from the understanding that the suicidal person is contemplating death of the whole self in order to get rid of just a part of self that the person finds too painful, despicable, shameful, hateful, or raw to live with. Always speak with the person on those terms, with the goal of having them see that it’s only a portion of self they want to get rid of, not the whole self.

We have a tendency to get very emotional when people involved in war and those who protect us lose their lives. There doesn’t seem to be the widespread alarm over the suicide rate. One of the worst tragedies in our society is the discovery that a young person has reached the state of mind to consider taking their own life.

Leawood resident Charles Jackard is an education expert and the former principal of Horizons Academy in northeast Johnson County. You can read more of his work on his website here.

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