2018-10-10 / Editorials

Martha Chalker

Children and Suicide

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 – 24. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college age youth. More teen and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease COMBINED. So what is going on and what do we need to know to protect our kids? Depression in teens can be a leading cause for suicide attempts. Depression is what we sometimes refer to as our feeling unhappy or sad in response to a disappointment, loss of something or someone, frustration or sickness. This is a normal reaction to events around us. Clinical depression is more serious and the despondency is unrelenting and overwhelming for all ages. Symptoms of this type of depression make kids feel they cannot escape unhappiness and despair. They may feel as if they are “living in a black hole” or experiencing feelings of impending doom. They are unable to experience pleasure and may feel like they are just going through the motions even when doing activities they used to enjoy. Signs and symptoms vary from person to person and may come and go.

Each day there is an average of 5400 suicide attempts by young people age 7 to 12. Four out of five who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. According to JJ’s Hello Foundation created by Michelle and Josh Anderson following the loss of their 12 year old son to suicide on February 13th, 2016, there are definite symptoms parents should be aware of. Their son was a straight A student, involved in school activities and helped out in the community. He was not someone you would think was suicidal.

These are many symptoms and signs we need to be aware of to help protect our children:

1. Irritability is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. Look for anger and uncontrolled rage.

2. Unexplained aches and pains including headaches and stomach aches that are not due to a medical condition may indicate depression.

3. Depressed kids and young adults are extremely sensitive to criticism, rejection and failure. They may experience feelings of worthlessness. This is especially a problem for over achievers. (Social media is known to have contributed to a number of kids committing suicide).

4. Your child may withdraw from some but not all people. Teens who are depressed may socialize less, pull away from parents or start hanging out with a different crowd.

5. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors and attitudes are indicators of depression in teens. These may include engaging in reckless behavior and having lots of accidents resulting in injury.

6. Pay attention to your child’s language. Talking or joking about suicide is a serious indicator. If they say things like “I’d be better off dead”, “There is no way out”, “I wish I could disappear forever”, it’s time to have a conversation.

7. Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying has to be a concern. “If I died, people might love me more” or “Everyone would just be better off if I were not here”. Writing stories or poems about death, dying or suicide and giving away prized possessions are symptoms to also be aware of.

8. Depressed kids are often unable to sleep or may be sleeping all the time. They may also say goodbye to family and friends as if it is the last time.

9. Talking about or seeking out weapons, pills, ropes or even kitchen utensils are obvious signs calling for intervention. Children who have been exposed to another’s suicide are more likely to attempt suicide themselves.

We need to be proactive in keeping our kids and young adults safe and healthy. Take symptoms seriously. Ask what is going on and ask “how can I help”? Be persistent, nonjudgmental and listen to their feelings. It’s important not to be shocked or angry. Let him/ her know that no matter how bad they think it is, the problems can be worked out and you are willing to help. Keep talking, continue to let them know you are there for them. If you feel the child may be in danger, immediately call someone who can help – a crisis line- or get the child to a medical facility. Make a point to practice preventive actions with your kids. Spend more time with your child going on walks thirty minutes at least three times a week so you can really communicate. Give your child tasks or chores around the home and let them know how valuable their help is. Limit social media and screen time and communicate those expectations up front. Monitor their social media every day. You bought the phone, you can look at it, especially knowing media time has been linked to the rise in suicide rate in kids. Designate a central charging station in the home and insist the kids plug in their devices well before bedtime. You may choose to use this time for family devotions or to catch up on how everyone’s day went and what the plans are for the rest of the week.

Martha Chalker is a personal and business coach with over 20 years of experience. She also practices cognitive therapy providing the PACE and MTC programs with Learning Enhancement Centers. She can be reached at 706-564-4458.

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