John Grohol at Psychcentral.com wrote a powerful post about teen suicides, full of great advice for all of us … in order to be more aware and to possibly intervene before a life is taken. In his post, “Celebrity, Suicide, and Young Adulthood,” he writes:
Perhaps one of the future solutions for combating suicide by older teens and young adults is through a class targeted at helping them better understand relationships and their emotional reactions. Or heck, even just a class about emotions. We teach kids so many useful skills in school, but we do little to prepare them emotionally, or with realistic, usable relationship skills.
There really should be an Emotions 101 or Relationships 101 course taught in sophomore year of high school that covers these topics. While I’m not a big fan of institutional teaching of these kinds of things, it’s clear that many (most?) parents never talk to their teens (and likely cannot talk to their teens because the teens don’t want to talk about it) about these kinds of topics.
And while I think that you see older teens and young adults eventually taking such a class in college, I’m afraid that for some of them, it’s far too late to do much good (and doesn’t help at all the folks who never go to college).
Depression to a teen or young adult may seem like a weird label to put on the feelings they’re experiencing. They may not recognize it as depression: “Hey, I just broke up with this girl — my first real, serious relationship — but I’ll be okay.” Indeed, I’m certain many teens bounce back from their first, serious relationship without any long-term emotional scratches or scars. But for some teens, it’s far more traumatic. They may never recover. And our current outreach just isn’t reaching them.
Teens, just like adults, often turn to alcohol or drugs to help cope with their emotions. Teens often don’t have a lot of reliable, well-nurtured coping skills to begin with, so alcohol or drugs are an easy answer to feeling upset. Combine a teen’s emotional turmoil with getting into drugs and/or alcohol, and you have a seriously potent combination. Again, in most teens, nothing really bad ever comes from their experimentation and use of these things. But in some, it turns their world inside out and upside down. They see no tomorrow, no future, no hope.
I don’t know much about the personal psychological histories of Alexander McQueen, Andrew Koenig or Michael Blosil. But from what I’ve read, it seems likely that they were battling demons related to either depression, alcohol or drugs, or combination of these, and just weren’t getting (and perhaps not even seeking) the help they needed. While such celebrity cases sadden me, they are a drop in the bucket compared to the over 4,000 teens and young adults who take their lives every year here in the U.S. (or the additional 26,000+ adults who do so).
Every single day, another 11 young adults will choose death by suicide.
What You Can Do To Help
It’s important to recognize the warning signs of a teen or young adult who may be thinking about suicide:
- Talking about suicide or death or “going away”
- Talking about feeling hopeless or guilty
- Pulling away from friends or family
- Losing the desire to take part in normal activities
- Having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- Exhibiting lots of self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, driving too fast)
- Giving away prized possessions or their stuff
- Big changes in their eating or sleeping habits
Experts recommend that, if you’re an adult in a teen’s or young adult’s life, to stay involved:
- Watch and listen for warning signs
- Keep lines of communication open and express your concern, support and love
- If your teen doesn’t want to talk, suggest a more neutral person such as a relative, clergy member, counselor or doctor
- Ask questions, even tough ones, such as if he or she has had thoughts of suicide
- Get psychological help if your child is thinking about suicide
- If your teen is in a crisis situation, your emergency room can conduct an evaluation and refer you to resources
- Make sure you keep an appointment with a mental health professional — even if your teen says he or she is feeling better