Teenage suicide has become a growing concern in major countries of the world. From 2007, till the present moment, the rate of teenage suicide has increased progressively. The records of suicide cases among adolescent females doubled between 2007 and 2015, while those of adolescent males increased by 30% during this time. According to the report revealed by the 2016 CDC WISQARS, teenage suicide in America is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds. This means that more teenagers die from suicides than from cancer, AIDS, pneumonia, malaria, and other diseases when brought together. Suicide has been discovered to be a key health problem in South Africa. Even though there is no comprehensive data/evidence available, it is estimated that the suicide rate among adolescents is way higher than their older counterparts. The deaths were about 25 in 100,000, which was even greater than the averagely recognized 23 in 100,000. The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey of students in grades 9 through 12 indicated that nearly one fourth (24.1%) of students had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey, 17.7% had made a specific plan, and 8.7% had made an attempt.
If teenage suicide is a widespread menace, suicidal attempts are much more alarming. It has been reported that four out of every five teenagers already have attempted suicide. Yearly, per one adolescent suicide report, there are about 100 others who are receiving medical care for a suicide attempt and another 0.3% who are hospitalized because they attempted suicide. Even though there are more reports of suicide attempts among girls, it has been discovered that more boys complete the actual act than females. Suicide cuts across every race and socio-economic class, even though the rate in some classes is higher than others. It is mostly prevalent among Native American males and it has the lowest rate in African-American women.
Asian countries account for the highest rate of recorded suicide cases in the world (about 60% of suicidal cases come from Asia). It is estimated that if proper recording is carried out in the continent, there might be higher suicide rates than what is estimated. In some Asian countries, it is difficult to obtain data on suicides due to the poor recording system; countries like Pakistan, Vietnam, and other war-ridden zones of Asia are not easily accessible to obtain records on suicides. In Asian countries where this data are available, it is either underestimated, reported late, or the procedures for certifying suicides are not accurate. Countries like China, Thailand, or Sri Lanka have a poor system to report suicide cases, while the procedure for them is quite reliable in Hong-Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. About 60 million people are affected by suicide annually in Asia and it is estimated that it will get worse in the next two decades due to underdeveloped mental health services and the socio-economic structures in these regions compared to western nations.
There are terms associated with suicide that should be properly defined. They include:
· Suicidal ideation: these are thoughts, ruminations, and ideas about death, especially about killing oneself.
· Suicide attempt (also known as parasuicide): is an intentional act by a person who truly wants to die. It does not matter the means by which the person intends to cause their own death.
· Suicide: is the end product of harming oneself deliberately.
· Self-harm: this is any harm done to oneself without any real intention to die. This includes cutting oneself after emotional crises or as a means of threat or manipulation.
· Suicidal behavior: it is also known as suicidality and it includes all the actions from threats and suicidal ideation, to suicide attempts and suicide itself.
RISK FACTORS AND CAUSES OF TEENAGE SUICIDE
With these reports and the rise in the rates of teenage suicides, one cannot help but wonder why young people will decide to end their lives abruptly. According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of teenage suicide was linked to mental illnesses such as bipolar disorders, personality disorders, and substance abuse disorders. Alcohol especially is a form of depressant which alters one’s mood and for teens whose emotions have not been fully trained; they sink into depression and suicidal thoughts. Teens that have poor coping skills and low stress tolerance levels have also entertained suicidal thoughts. Young adults with beliefs that are different from what other people consider as normal, most times sink into despair as a result of loneliness and can also increase the risks of suicide. Adolescents in this category, which includes those who are homosexuals[U1], bisexuals and transgender have been found to have increased suicidal thoughts and rates of suicides compared to other teenagers. They are often isolated and mocked by other adolescents. In a study, it was found that a sizeable percentage of bisexual males and females had previously attempted suicide.
Bullying and cyber bullying have been a major issue in colleges nowadays and have led to the deaths of several teenagers. With the advent of technology and increased use of mobile phones and access to online groups by teens, more of them fall into the trap of psychopaths who feed them with different harmful thoughts and words. An example of such is the ask.fm site that led to the deaths of several teenagers due to manipulation from some of these site owners. Access to lethal weapons like guns has been found to increase suicide rates. Currently, guns can be found in most homes, therefore increasing the likelihood and ease for most teen suicides. In my short teaching career of 17 years, there have been five sucides, with the last one being a beautiful girl who shot herself using a gun available in her own home. Most boys use guns while girls use drugs. Some of them feign accidents, that is, they drive recklessly intentionally also because they have access to cars at their will.
The National Institute of Mental Health also revealed that a teenager or adolescent with a family history of suicide, mental disorders, and substance abuse disorders is at high risk of committing suicide. The ratio of families with a history of actual suicide and those without any history is 2.1 to 1. It remained the same despite trying to alter differences in the person’s psychiatry and socioeconomic level. Even though just very few people are under this class, the possibility should not be overruled when investigating suicide cases.
Teens from dysfunctional homes, divorced parents, and extremely strict parents have increased suicide risks. Some of these teens feel they are responsible for their family situations mostly because some parents act this way unconsciously or consciously. Additionally, adolescents, especially females who have suffered a long impact of physical and sexual abuse in the hands of a parent or relative are also prone to suicide. The young adults then assume that leaving the family will return the peace their parents want. Teenagers who have suffered the loss of a dear person or a breakup also are at increased risks.
Teenagers and young adults also undergo a lot of pressure, sometimes much more than adults do. They are under the pressure to live up to expectations created by their parents, relatives, and society. They are also under serious stress to succeed and they live in fear that they will fail to do so. Almost everyone encounters these fears and pressures. The ability to overcome these uncertainties and self-doubt is all part of the process of becoming an adult. While some succeed in this feat, others are overwhelmed by the pressure and they start nursing suicidal thoughts or eventually commit suicide. Some teens also consider suicide as a revenge plot. They feel like causing pain to their parents for their lack of acceptance or tolerance to the person and life they have chosen. When viewed from another perspective, we can as well say that suicide is a means of communication. It tells us that there is something wrong deep down and that the person feels helpless and hopeless about whatever situation they are facing. It can be viewed as a desperate cry of help from sufferers.
Suicide does not just happen suddenly. Several events and feelings build up in a teen’s mind that eventually lead to suicide. It could start from an unpleasant feeling about oneself, stress, self-doubts, a high degree of insecurity and an inferiority complex which often leads to loneliness. Loneliness eventually begets depression, which is the main culprit here. Experts reveal that 80% of the time, suicide victims are extremely depressed. They feel unlucky about their current situation. The other 20% are alcohol or drug-induced.Most of the time young people leave clues and hints along the path. They say or do things that suggest suicide. They could become more withdrawn to themselves, start talking about death on their social media, or even have several failed attempts before they finally succeed.
In a real sense, taking one’s life could be a very difficult task. It does not come easy for adults, much less for teenagers. These young people are actually scared deep down, but they think they do not have a choice or that they have exploited all the options available to them. Research has shown that most of the teenagers that took their lives regret their decision at the last minute. They wish they had chosen life. A lot of things go on in the mind of a teen. They seek approval or consent from things and events that happen to them. Their emotions have not been fully developed at this stage, so they are greatly affected by what people say, think, and feel about them. They interpret incidents in an emotional manner, rather than doing so logically. They have no idea of the most important things in life and things such as looks, beauty, and social acceptance give them genuine happiness.
Gone are the days when it was imagined that teenagers were happy, free from thoughts and stress, excited about life, and blazing with zeal and enthusiasm. We wrongly assume that teenagers are careless attention-seekers when they put up a strange attitude and most times we ignore them. Adults are so busy being adults -working and all- that we forget to consciously spend time with our teenagers. To manage to fight this menace, a close monitorization of the teenagers is really important. There are some of the behaviors that adolescents exhibit that can serve as a source of concern. Some of the things to look out for in your teenager, which are characteristic of suicidal intentions include depression which can be accompanied by a feeling of worthlessness and insignificant existence, negative perceptions of self, and poor social habits and interaction. Some teens can be sulky at times or even cry but may not do so openly. More often, they are isolated from other people and love to just be by themselves and do not have interests in the things happening around - they deliberately withdraw from society. It is also possible that such persons lose or gain weight excessively; they might lack the ability to sleep, and experience exacerbation and fatigue very easily. They usually have difficulty concentrating and you’ll almost always find that they begin to perform poorly in school, even if they were high flyers before. They are more likely to become truants, abscond from home, defer authorities, and engage in self-destructive lifestyles such as alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and other detrimental habits.
PREVENTION OF TEENAGE SUICIDE
Suicide is preventable. Most successful teenage suicides would not have been possible if there had been some sort of assistance. It is generally believed that those teens who were not successful at their first attempt, continually try to harm themselves until they finally succeed. It is safe to say that if there was a positive interference during this period, the incident would have been prevented. The root causes of the suicide must also be known in order to efficiently prevent the occurrence, even though there are general ways to prevent suicide from happening. There are medical and social approaches to the prevention of suicides.
Medical interventions also help to prevent teenage suicides, especially those caused by mental illness. Most times, these mental problems are not identified early. The majority of psychiatric disorders, e.g. schizophrenia, personality disorders, anorexia, bipolar disorders, drug-induced psychosis, have their onset in adolescence. Most suicidal cases are caused by these conditions, and most teenagers with these are at higher risk. The good thing about it is that these conditions are treatable and can be managed if detected early. Most adults assume the teenager is just being irrational and unreasonable. This is where close monitoring and guidance of the adolescent also comes into play. When parents notice symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, exceptionally excited moods, persistent states of depression, amongst others, they should be reported immediately.
The family is the smallest unit of a society. It is said that when you train a child, you train a whole community. The family serves as a strong support system to individuals. It is the first point of contact for a person, and it is believed that the family plays a great role in the formation of their character. The family is the foundation of a society. It is the base of an individual’s personality, character, values, and beliefs. Relating it to teenage suicide, the bulk of the work is on the family, whether it be parents or other adults in the family. Children generally bond easily with their parents. They trust them easily and love them. Parents, on the other hand, show care and attention to their young children. This love story turns sour as the child approaches adolescence. At this stage, the child, who is now a teen, begins to form opinions, values, and ideals of their own, which in most cases can be quite contrary to the parents’ beliefs. Then conflicts and clashes between the parents and the teenager arise. Most young people then withdraw to themselves and seek approval from society and other systems. It is also at this stage that they face a lot of pressure, self-doubts, and uncertainty but because there is no cordial relationship between parents and their children, they are left on their own to figure how to live through these difficult times by their parents. Hence, they lack a strong support system to help the fight through these moments.
Contrary to the belief that most teenagers do not want a close relationship with their parents, the majority of them actually do. A study revealed that about 90% of adolescents believe their parents do not comprehend what they are going through. It was also discovered that at one point or another, when most young people actually try talking to their parent about events, their parents either denied the happening or ignored the reports altogether. They are willing to open up to their parents if they can trust the adults to walk them through their challenges without judging them. Parents have to give attention to their adolescent, advising them, respecting their beliefs, and correcting them with love. This helps adolescents open up freely to their parents, therefore also discussing whatever they have on their minds. A healthy relationship between parents and their teens prevents depression to a great extent, which in turn reduces the risks of suicide. When parents pay attention to their children’s warning signs, they can stop any disastrous moves from happening. Parents can even help their children confide in other trusted people in society, such as mentors, priests, doctors, etc. It is also advisable that parents start talking to their kids from childhood through to adulthood. They are to serve as guides and help them build a healthy self-esteem. Adults can help their kids discover and build their talents. Through series of questions and engagement, teenagers can find what they are naturally good at. When they start developing their talents, their self-esteem increases, and they generate a feeling of self-worth.
The relationship between adolescents and their parents can be developed by taking the following steps:
· Ensuring that the young adults have a stable physical and emotional home environment
Most times, teenagers become pawns in the midst of legal battles, conflicts, and disputes that happen in the home. Parents are generally advised to try and settle differences amicably and in cases of divorce and settlements, they should also try to make them free from the drama that comes with them. Whatever decision they decide to take should have the interest of their wards at heart.
· Spending quality time with young people
Time spent with the younger ones is very important for cultivating a good relationship with them. The amount of time spent disagreeing with adolescents can be channeled towards a more productive exercise. The time spent with them gives us an idea of their fears, struggles, and battles.
Most adolescents are of the opinion that adults are quick to give ideas on how to go about things instead of actually listening to hear their views on certain subjects. Sometimes or most times, actually, teenagers do not convey verbal messages. They communicate non-verbally and it takes a sensitive parent to decode the message. Adults need to understand and learn the body language that they give off.
· Adults should encourage the correct expression of emotions
This can be a conscious or an unconscious training act by the parent. Parents should teach their children how to communicate negative emotions without casting off restraints. They should be taught to show joy, happiness, and laughter.
Cases of bullying and cyber bullying in colleges should not be taken with levity. They should be reported to the appropriate authorities so that strict measures can be employed to control and correct the students or persons involved. It is also important to remove all lethal weapons such as guns from homes or to hide them completely from the reach of younger adults. When they have access to these, it increases the risk of suicide among them.
Adults should model a healthy behavior by being examples. They can show teens how they solve problems or challenges they encounter and how to deal with stress individually. This helps the young adult to see that there are no challenges that are insurmountable. It helps the teen to build faith in themselves. They would not feel hopeless when they are faced with an issue.
When professional assistance is sought, the appropriate medications will be given. There are also social programs that exist to help suicidal teens come out of their challenges. These systems help support teens and give them a sense of belonging.
Every suicide attempt should be treated as an emergency, especially if it was planned. It should not be concluded that all suicide attempts are a result of attention-seeking behaviors. There should be proper follow-ups and counseling after a suicide attempt. Professional help should be sought from psychologists, psychiatrists, or doctors. Proper assessment of the teenager should be done. The teen should be closely observed but should not be made uncomfortable. Additionally, the weapon used to attempt suicide should be kept out of the reach of the teenager.
Finally, there should be awareness on television, radios, and social media regarding the issue of teenage depression and suicide. Though it has been pointed out that details of the suicide should be left out of discussions, as this may assist in informing the decision of a teenager who is having suicide ideation.
Suicide is a very threatening situation for a population that is considered the backbone and strength of the country. Young people are considered nation-builders and are essential for a country’s progress. We should also be reminded that a successful country depends on its youth and so, investing in the lives of adolescents is investing in our future.
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