Between childhood and adulthood are the teenage years. They are a period of profound transformations. Hormonal changes are driving physical and neurological changes which lead to mental, emotional, and social changes. New pressures related to social acceptance, academic performance, and new responsibilities arise. Concerns that adults might find trivial, become paramount for the teen. Karla F. Willis, a Mental Health Counselor from Sheboygan, explains, “Teens are going through major physical and mental changes. One of the consequences of this period is that teens may wrestle with issues of acceptance and rejection. Parents and other adults who have completed this period of transition sometimes forget that these changes can be hard - at times filled with joy and excitement, but at other times there are feelings of confusion, rejection, shame, loneliness, or pain.”
The fact is that many of these physical and social changes occur faster than changes in certain parts of the brain. Teens, particularly boys, lack full development of the frontal lobe, which is used for decision making and inhibiting behaviors. Although, the emotional brain centers, where sadness, fear, anger, and joy are processed, are fully developed by this point. Willis explains, “This doesn’t mean teens are broken, but it does mean teens may have trouble managing risk or controlling their emotions.”
Mental health disorders are not uncommon during these heady teenage years. Willis says, “Most suicide attempts are associated with a mental health disorder, most commonly it is depression. This is important to recognize because mental health disorders such as depression and suicidal feelings can be treated.”
In the US, for 15- to 19-year-olds, the suicide rate is 14 per 100,000, which makes it the second leading cause of death in this age group. For comparison, the average suicide rate for all Americans is also 14 per 100,000 and the overall rate for Wisconsin is 15 per 100,000. Successful suicides are often preceded by many unsuccessful attempts, and the risk of suicide increases when there is a firearm in the home. Willis notes, “While girls attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, boys die of suicide four times more often than girls.” Here are some of the risk factors for teen suicide: ● Previous suicide attempts ● Mental health disorders ● Substance abuse ● History of abuse ● Family history of suicide ● Feelings of hopelessness ● Physical illness ● Impulsive or aggressive behavior ● Financial, relationship, or social loss ● Isolation or lack of social support ● Easy access to means of suicide such as firearms ● Exposure to others who have committed suicide
Broaching the subject of suicide with a teen is difficult. Open lines of communication are crucial for teen suicide prevention. If you see warning signs in a teen you know, express this to them. Willis says, “The teen will benefit from knowing someone cares and this can help facilitate further communication and a conversation about seeking assistance from a mental health professional”.
Here are some of the warning signs of a teen suicide: ● Changes in eating or sleeping habits ● Pervasive sadness ● Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities ● Physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomach aches or headaches ● Decline in the quality of schoolwork ● Preoccupation with death and dying
If you see these warning signs in a teen, remember to emphasize open communication and to seek out a mental health professional to treat the underlying mental health disorder. If you need more resources regarding suicide prevention the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.asfp.org) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (www.sprc.org) are excellent online resources.
https://afsp.org/campaigns/talk-about-mental-health-awareness-month/teens-and-suicide-what-parents-should-know/ https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6630a6.htm https://teens.webmd.com/preventing-teen-suicide#1