In Orange County, approximately 10 teens commit suicide each year and 700 are hospitalized for self harm related behaviors: https://www.ocregister.com/2015/05/27/suicide-report-what-drives-oc-teens-to-attempt-suicide/ . We can do more to support our local community and prevent this impulsive tragic loss of a young child.
Recently, the local community has been incredibly supportive and understanding regarding the suicides of a few local teens. Teen suicide is a crisis, and needs to be taken seriously locally and nationally. As a therapist that treats teens, I see the need of more community education, awareness and intervention, and will do my best to give support to anyone that seeks it. It takes something as simple as asking our kids about whether they are having suicidal thoughts to start the conversation. As a community, we can remove the stigma of talking about it and make a real change. If you felt yourself become uncomfortable thinking about asking a child about this topic, there are tools and resources to help guide the conversation.
From a mental health perspective, suicide prevention starts with increased suicide awareness. It isn’t just the crisis point that we need to focus on. It is the buildup of intense emotions that lead to someone feeling overwhelmed that may lead to hopelessness that may lead to suicidal ideation that may lead to a suicide attempt. We can intervene at all steps along the way. I have listed below quite a few ways that everyone can make a difference:
For the suicidal individual: If you are having suicidal thoughts, there are a few options.
• Call 911 if you have an immediate risk or need medical attention due to a suicidal behavior.
• Call 800-273-8255, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, you will reach real people that care and are here to listen. And yes, it was recently made famous by Logic’s song: http://www.oxygen.com/crime-time/suicide-hotline-calls-tripled-after-logics-grammy-performance
• Text Home to 741741, a Crisis support Text line with live help. https://www.crisistextline.org/
• Call the Orange County Centralized Assessment Team (CAT Team) at 1-866-830-6011 or 714-517-6353. They will come to you and assess dangerousness to self or others and determine the need for hospitalization. They try to come as soon as possible, but due to lack of staff, there is often a longer wait.
• For LGBTQ teens, go to https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/#sm.000oy9e9a19s7e4pvku1vblffr0iw or call 1-866-488-7386 or text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200, Available Monday–Friday between 3pm–10pm EST / Noon–7pm PT
For all teens:
• Get involved in Peer Assistance Leadership programs offered at your school
• Listen to your friends, show them support, be more vulnerable about feelings with your closer friends
• Never Shame others for their mistakes. They likely feel bad enough and insecure
• Reach out to kids that are outside of your popularity level
• Post about mental health support on Social Media
• Know that most social media platforms have suicide reporting features: https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2016/08/using-social-media-to-prevent-suicide
• Get involved in other teen’s lives. Instead of avoiding being vulnerable with your friends, give them a chance to talk about something deeper occasionally. These are the people that you likely trust more than your parents or other adults; even though they may not give you the best advice, they are also learning how to regulate their emotions, make mistakes and figure out life. Share with them without judging each other’s thoughts and behaviors.
• Watch Logan Paul’s recent video where he acknowledges his prior ignorance and explores ways to help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWjxSkJpxFU&feature=youtu.be
For Teachers, School Counselors, Coaches, and all-important adults in a child’s life:
• When a child tells you that they are having suicidal thoughts, believe them and help as much as you can. It is incredibly difficult for someone to reach out for help. If they are not believed, it further rejects them and increases the chances of suicidal behavior.
• Screen for Suicidality. There is a short simple evidenced based free assessment available from the Columbia Lighthouse Project: http://cssrs.columbia.edu/the-scale-in-action/schools/
• Be aware of how much you are pushing them to succeed. Are you using the Growth mindset to increase their confidence that with enough time effort and planning they will achieve their goals, or are you pointing out the mistakes that they made that led them to receive a poor grade? Or are you praising them too much for participating? Carol Dweck wrote a guide for parents and coaches on how to talk to kids: https://mindsetonline.com/howmindsetaffects/parentsteacherscoaches/index.html
• Host a screening of the Ripple Effect, a film on suicide prevention about a 19-year-old that jumped from the Golden Gate bridge and had instant regret: http://suicidetherippleeffect.com/
• Know that it is not just teens that are at risk of suicide. As adults, examine your own mental health and see if you may need help as well. Take a confidential online mental health screening at https://whatsmym3.com/
• Read about how the suicide rate in Orange County has steady increased in recent years: https://voiceofoc.org/2016/04/ocs-rise-in-suicides-largest-among-major-u-s-counties/
• Be aware of how much influence you likely have on a child. Before you give them criticism or negative feedback, imagine how you would receive it if you were them. Imagine your boss telling you the same information and imagine what emotions it would elicit for you. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/suicide-safe-by-samhsa-suicide/id968468139?mt=8
• Don’t shame the teachers that have made these mistakes that have resulted in kid’s feeling terrible, they likely feel terrible about the loss of a child. Instead, lets reach out and offer to improve their awareness of how to help our teens emotionally, socially and academically.
• Teenage suicide is on a wide spectrum of thoughts and behaviors, be aware of where you currently are, especially in terms of hopelessness.
• Low Self-Esteem, Bullying, Cutting, Social Isolation, Social Media Embarrassment, and Self Rejection are warning signs of risk of suicidal thoughts. Include emotions when you talk to your kids.
• Building awareness of the first signs, and the warning signs of a crisis are critical.
• Know your Child. Ask them questions about emotions often. Show them empathy.
• Understand NSSI, children regularly use self-injury when feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and feel as if there is no other way to express the intensity of their feelings.
• I recommend as parents and teenagers that you read the following materials:
Non-Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI) including cutting is seen in 13-23.2% of the general population: https://cswr.columbia.edu/article/stepping-out-of-the-shadows-non-suicidal-self-injury-as-its-own-diagnostic-category/
• There is a correlation between screen time and an increase in depressive or suicidal thoughts and behaviors. One study found that depression is more likely in teens that spend more than 1 hour on their phone per day and 48% of teens that spend 5 or more hours on their phone had either been feeling hopeless, thinking about suicide, planning for suicide or attempting suicide.
Source: San Diego State University. “Screen time might boost depression, suicide behaviors in teens: A new study finds that teens, especially girls, who spend several hours per day on phones and tablets are more likely to be depressed and have suicide-related outcomes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 November 2017. .
Also, be aware of suicide contagion, for more information, the CDC has a lengthy description: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm?TB_iframe=true&width=921.6&height=921.6