When we see stories about teen suicide we are sickened.
No youngster should feel so defeated that he wants to end his life.
Parents and friends are at a loss. All too often the death of their child comes as a total shock. And that's not surprising because teens are often private and moody and parents can search in vain for ways to reach them.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth aged 15 to 24 in B.C. and Canada. By the end of high school, one in five teens will seriously consider it, and one in 10 will attempt it. More B.C. youth die from it than anything else except car crashes. But it can often be prevented.
Some suicidal youth show no signs of distress, but most do. Our job is to distinguish between a moody teen and a seriously disturbed youngster. The changes that teens at risk for suicide can show are different from typical teen behaviour and they include:
. Talking about suicide or a plan for suicide. They may say things like, "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead," "I shouldn't have been born," "I won't be a problem for you much longer," "Nothing matters," or "It's no use."
. Making statements about hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness. You might hear them complaining of feeling "rotten inside" or being a bad person, refusing help or feeling beyond help.
. Not tolerating praise or rewards.
. Giving away favourite possessions or making a will.
. Being preoccupied with death.
. Showing a loss of interest in pleasurable activities or things they once cared about. Always feeling bored.
. Showing marked personality changes and serious mood changes. While we all know that teens do change their attitudes, they don't become totally different people. A slight change is typical, but a serious change so that you don't recognize your own child can be a signal that there is a serious problem.
. Withdrawing from friends and family.
. Sleeping all of the time or unable to sleep. While it sometimes seems that teens sleep all the time, you know that what they really want is to sleep in the morning but be awake and ready to connect with friends at night. But if your teen is sleeping all day or up all night and day, you will want to pay attention.
. Having trouble concentrating or difficulties with school work. If this is a change in his usual pattern it could be that he's too distracted by whatever is bringing on his suicidal feelings to allow him to concentrate on school.
. Complaining frequently about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches or fatigue.
. Showing impulsive behaviours, such as violent actions, rebellious behaviour or running away.
. Increasing or excessive substance use.
. Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression. This may mean that he has already made the decision to escape his problems through suicide.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development has resources for youth and families to get immediate help:
. 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800 784-2433).
. Youth in B.C.: 1-866-661-3311 (toll free). Youth in B.C. is an online crisis service where you can chat one-on-one with a trained volunteer 24 hours a day.
. Aboriginal People Crisis Line: 1-800-5888717.
. Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-2091266.
. Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A free 24-hour hotline in Canada: 1-800-273-8255.
. Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. The Kids Help Line is a national organization offering bilingual, 24-hour toll-free confidential phone counselling, referral and Internet services for children and youth or their parents, in English and French.
There is help. It's tough to have to recognize that your son or daughter might be considering suicide. But with the appropriate counselling, your child and you can come through this and your child will mature into a stronger young person.
. Tri-Cities resident Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www.parentingtoday.ca.