Youth and Suicide

Youth up against a wallAdolescence is a time of dramatic change.

The journey from child to adult can be complex and challenging. Young people often feel tremendous pressure to succeed at school, at home and in social groups. At the same time, they may lack the life experience that lets them know that difficult situations will not last forever. Mental health problems commonly associated with adults, such as depression, also affect young people. Any one of these factors, or a combination, may become such a source of pain that they seek relief in suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people after motor vehicle accidents. Yet people are often reluctant to discuss it. This is partly due to the stigma, guilt or shame that surrounds suicide. People are often uncomfortable discussing it. Unfortunately, this tradition of silence perpetuates harmful myths and attitudes. It can also prevent people from talking openly about the pain they feel or the help they need.

Suicide can appear to be an impulsive act.

But it’s a complicated process, and a person may think about it for some time before taking action. It’s estimated that 8 out of 10 people who attempt suicide or die by suicide hinted about or made some mention of their plans. Often, those warning signs are directed at a friend.

Recognizing the warning signs is one thing; knowing what to do with that information is another.

Suicide was a taboo subject for a very long time. Even talking about it is still difficult for most people. But being able to talk about suicide can help save a life. Learning about suicide is the first step in the communication process. Suicide is about escape. Someone who thinks seriously about suicide is experiencing pain that is so crushing, they feel that only death will stop it

What are the signs?

Most people who consider suicide are not determined to die. They are undecided about whether to live or die, so they may take risks and leave it to someone else to save them. Warning signs may be their way of asking for help or revealing the seriousness of their situation. Warning signs can be very subtle. They can also be as obvious as someone saying, “You won’t be seeing me any more.”

Here are some common warning signs:

  • sudden change in behaviour (for better or worse)
  • withdrawal from friends and activities,
  • lack of interest
  • increased use of alcohol and other drugs
  • recent loss of a friend, family member or parent, especially if they died by suicide
  • conflicting feelings or a sense of shame about being gay or straight
  • mood swings, emotional outbursts, high level of irritability or aggression
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • preoccupation with death, giving away valued possessions
  • talk of suicide: eg. “no one cares if I live or die”
  • making a plan or increased risk taking
  • writing or drawing about suicide (in a diary, for example)
  • “hero worship” of people who have died by suicide

Remember, there is no ultimate list of warning signs. It may be right to be concerned about someone
simply because their behaviour is out of character. Sudden shifts in a person’s attitude or actions can
alert friends to potential problems.

What can you do?

The only person who can stop a person from considering suicide is the suicidal person. But you can help
them to reconsider and seek other solutions. The most important thing is to listen. Take your friend
seriously.

People who share their suicide plans often demand secrecy from their friends. But they’re usually hoping
that their friend will stop them by getting help. When a life is at risk, requests for confidentiality must be
ignored.

Don’t be afraid to be the first to mention suicide. Talking about suicide openly does not increase the risk.

Ask if your friend is suicidal. Bringing the subject into the open can bring relief.

You can help by:

  • really listening, without judging not challenging, or becoming angry and shocked
  • finding ways to break through the silence and secrecy
  • asking if they have plans or have made prior attempts
  • helping them find ways to lessen their pain
  • helping them see positive possibilities in their future
  • guiding them to other sources of help as soon as possible, such as a counsellor or other trusted
    adult, or community crisis lines listed in your telephone book

No one can solve another person’s problems. But sympathy and support can help; knowing that someone
else has faced similar tough times and survived can help a suicidal person see a light at the end of a very
dark tunnel.