Suicide among teens is becoming more commonplace than ever before. I go to school every day and wonder if I will lose another friend.
I can remember every suicide that has happened in my high school. It hardly mattered how much you knew the person who took their life. The fact was that we lost a fellow student, and it was overwhelming to think about.
When one of my friends died by suicide my sophomore year, it was shocking and devastating. The students and teachers were stunned, and no one saw it coming. I had a conversation with my friend just the day before he took his life.
The guilt felt by those who know the person is unbelievable. You ask yourself, did I miss the signs? Could I have done something to prevent this from happening? Why would my friend do this?
These questions sometimes never come with answers, leaving us with an empty hole in our hearts that can’t be refilled. Losing one student is losing too many. How can we help prevent more suicides? Should we talk about it or should we not talk about it at the school level?
Suicide is a growing health concern no matter where you live. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
That being said, how can we not talk about it? We need to find a way to spread more information about prevention. Saving one person’s life is worth talking about, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
The American Psychological Association reports that, annually, 1 in 5 teens seriously contemplate suicide. Additionally, the CDC says, of these kids, 4 out of 5 present clear warning signs and risk factors that signal their need for help.
Silence about suicide won’t make it go away. This is a problem that all of us need to be aware of. It can happen to the most popular kid in school, the smartest girl in your class, the kid who sits by himself/herself, the sports star. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. That is why it is so hard to believe when it does happen.
The National Institute of Mental Health offers some warning signs and risk factors for suicide.
1. Talking about dying or not being around any longer
2. Being preoccupied with death
3. Talking about being a burden to others
4. Increasing alcohol or drug use
5. Taking unnecessary risks and behaving recklessly
6. Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
7. Exhibiting rage or anger and mood swings
8. Acting anxious or agitated
9. Isolating or withdrawing from others
10. Telling loved ones goodbye
11. Giving things away, such as prized possessions
12. Referring to death via poetry, writings or artwork
13. Exhibiting poor hygiene
14. Changing eating or sleeping patterns
15. Declining academic and work performance
Risk factors for suicide
1. Presence of a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
2. Access to weapons in the home
3. Previous suicide attempts
4. Family history of suicide
5. Personal failure, such as failing a class or not making a sports team
6. Recent death or anniversary of the death of a close friend or family member
7. Recent loss by death, divorce or separation, moving to a new location, breakup with a dating partner, or breakup of a friendship
8. Lack of peer social support, such as few or no friends, or being bullied
9. Use of alcohol or drugs
Ways to get help
Teens and adults need to know there are numerous resources to prevent or raise awareness of suicide.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. This lifeline provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone of any age. This also includes non-English speakers and the deaf.
Other hotlines include:
Statewide/Salt Lake County Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
Online resources are also available:
NAMI Utah: namiut.org
Utah Chapter-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: afsp.org/chapter/afsp-utah
County Crisis Lines: namiut.org/resources/suicide-prevention
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: suicidepreventionlifeline.org
I wish I could tell my friend who died how much I love and miss him, but I can’t. If you are struggling, please know that when you don’t think that anyone cares, I promise you someone does. Tell your parents, friends, teachers or church leaders that you are feeling this way. Yell and scream until someone listens. You are worth it and deserve to be happy in your life.
Most of all, we need you in our life because without you there is a hole that will never heal if you take your life. Please use the resources provided in this article to help someone you love or to help yourself.
TX. Correspondent Kaia McClure of Syracuse High School contributed to this story.