When a Friend Commits Suicide

Teens often have unresolved feelings about a friend's suicide. But there are ways to find comfort and closure

BY: Helen Fitzgerald

 

The self-inflicted death of a close friend is one of the most devastating experiences a teen can have, yet it is disturbingly common today. The government says that suicide is the third-leading cause of death between the ages of 15 and 24, taking the lives of some 5,000 young people in the United States every year. Think of it: 5,000 kids who had their whole lives ahead of them--suddenly gone.

For every one of those suicides, there are many others--parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, close friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and more--who are left shattered, wondering what they could have done to prevent this catastrophe and wrestling with feelings of guilt for not acting in time. The boy or girl who takes his own life will never know the many, often enduring consequences of that act of self-destruction, but his or her survivors surely will!

I have met with many, many teens who have had to deal with a friend's suicide, and in every case they have been left wondering how they missed the signs of approaching disaster. This is because you can never know really what another person is thinking. And when it comes to such dark thoughts as ending one's life, people seldom are willing to reveal precisely what their intentions are.

This is not to say that there aren't clues to be looking for: depression and hopelessness, a fascination with the subject of suicide, preoccupation with death, loss of interest in things formerly cared about, giving one's belongings away, making unusual, goodbye-sounding visits or phone calls to close friends, and--the hardest one to recognize at the time--very suddenly appearing calm and happy when nothing else has changed. That last clue could be a sign that the person has a plan to end his or her misery. If you should observe signs like that in a friend, don't keep it to yourself. Share your concerns with a school counselor or another adult. Timely help could save your friend's life.

If you are among the tens of thousands of teens who have lost a friend through suicide, you may be haunted by the memory of this terrible event. Teens I have met with tell me they can't help thinking about how their friends died, painting in their mind's eye scenes that would fit in a horror movie. If you are tormented by such thoughts, it might be that your imagination is depicting a scene far worse than what really happened. Rumors among classmates and friends sometimes get badly distorted. In any case, these images should fade in a few weeks. If they don't, you should arrange to see a counselor who can help you shake them.

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