Suicide is not easy to talk about, and often even less so when we face it in our families and friends. The statistics point to an epidemic that affects children and adolescents with particular severity, with 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listing suicide as the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10-24.
This is an upwards trend. Youth suicides, specifically undertaken by minors between the ages of 10 and 17 have increased by a shattering 70% in the past decade. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened what is one of the country's most existential health problems.
As a part of September's National Suicide Awareness Prevention Month, we would like to raise our voices at Clearfork Academy and offer this resource for teens who are living with suicidal thoughts, as well as the family members and friends who struggle with this second-hand to offer mental health resources and support. Keep in mind that none of you are alone, and even the most final of acts are preventable.
When we describe someone as suicidal, it doesn't mean that they have yet or will attempt to take their own life. Suicidal behavior is generally preceded at length by different forms of suicidal thinking - ruminations about death or the desire to die that can manifest in various ways and worsen before any action is taken.
For every person who attempts suicide, many more are thinking about it. In 2020, 1.2 million Americans attempted suicide, while over 12 million were estimated to have thought seriously about it.
Suicidal ideation can be categorized in two ways:
Suicidal thoughts can develop into a pattern of escape from the outside world, but even this type of passive ideation can rapidly progress to active planning under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, it is still too easily dismissed. The stigma that surrounds suicide in teens has many people shutting down efforts to talk about passive ideation, both in themselves and in others out of fear or belief that speaking about this terrifying thought pattern is "attention seeking" or lying.
Suicide doesn't have any one cause, but several factors can significantly contribute to the risk of adolescents developing suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Effective suicide prevention often means growing awareness of the issues that can exacerbate or worsen suicidal thoughts, many of which can be intervened with directly to reduce the risk of harm.
The following are all significant suicide risk factors, outlined by the suicide prevention resource center:
Concern about suicide is often centered on adolescents that are otherwise living with mental illness. However, any kind of acute adverse event can greatly increase the likelihood that a young person is contemplating ending their life. The suicide prevention resource center describes these as "precipitating factors" - and while these are extremely subjective to each of us as individuals, they often include:
For many teens, emotional responses are heightened - high school students and young adults can be deeply affected by adverse events in ways that older adults may not immediately spot. At the same time, these are not a checklist or criteria. If someone doesn't 'seem' to be at risk for suicide, but is still exhibiting warning signs, there is cause for action.
Suicide is a deeply stigmatized, terrifying topic for young people who are experiencing thoughts of it, and their friends and loved ones alike. If someone close to you is struggling with suicidal thoughts, dysphoria, or other mental health problems, they may not feel comfortable sharing this with the people around them.
If passive ideation has progressed to active planning, some urgent signs indicate that this person has developed a driving desire to take their life. A person can be suicidal without exhibiting the following warning signs, but if any of these arise it may be time for an immediate intervention:
While the following do not necessarily indicate that someone in your life is contemplating suicide, they are significant red flags that something is dearly amiss.
If you or someone close to you are aware that a crisis is occurring, some actions can be taken to relieve the danger of a harmful act immediately. Organizations like the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line are available 24-7 to listen and de-escalate acute and risky situations (anyone can text HOME to 741741 at any time to reach a compassionate expert). However, preventing the worst unsurprisingly involves engaging social support systems, performing self-care, and avoiding burnout long before active suicidal thoughts come into play.
While many risk factors contribute to the likelihood of a teen developing suicidal thoughts, researchers have also identified a variety of protective factors that are related to people's resilience against suicide.
The major protective factors against suicide do not necessarily cure suicidal thoughts or behavior, but they can be understood as guiding trends that help discourage suicide by improving emotional and mental well-being. These are:
Parents, family members, and friends can help prevent suicide by building up these preventative factors in their loved ones. Normalizing therapy, speaking openly about mental and behavioral health, and building connections that are honest, open, and supportive of the capabilities, interests, and values of your loved one can make a world of difference.
If you are concerned that your friend or loved one may be suicidal, it's okay to break the ice. Many people are afraid to broach the topic of teen suicide because of the stigma that has surrounded this loaded topic - but that emotional baggage leaves many people who are having suicidal thoughts to close off and self-isolate. Don't wait for them, approach them with compassion and let them know you are a safe person to talk to.
Teen suicide prevention often involves talking about therapy, so do some research into the mental health services available in your region.
If a loved one is experiencing a suicidal crisis and has made immediate plans to take their life, here's what you can do:
Teens and young adults are more at risk of suicide than they ever have been before. If you, your friend, your child, or a loved one has realized that they're having thoughts of suicide or has opened up about a suicide attempt, then it's time to act. However, reacting urgently to mental health crises in teenagers can be complex.
There are options for accessing appropriate mental health services that address the unique needs of young people without disrupting their futures. Clearfork Academy offers intensive outpatient and inpatient options for young people whose lives are endangered by suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and other co-occurring mental health problems.
Our expert, empathetic staff are here for you if you need help for yourself or your family. We offer individual therapy, group therapy, and even family therapy, and our programs are designed by adolescent psychiatrists. Get in contact with Clearfork Academy today to find out how we can help.
Originally from the Saginaw, Eagle Mountain area, Austin Davis earned a Bachelor of Science in Pastoral Ministry from Lee University in Cleveland, TN and a Master of Arts in Counseling from The Church of God Theological Seminary. He then went on to become a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor in the State of Texas.
Austin’s professional history includes both local church ministry and clinical counseling. At a young age, he began serving youth at the local church in various capacities which led to clinical training and education. Austin gained a vast knowledge of mental health disorders while working in state and public mental health hospitals. This is where he was exposed to almost every type of diagnosis and carries this experience into the daily treatment.
Austin’s longtime passion is Clearfork Academy, a christ-centered residential facility focused on mental health and substance abuse. He finds joy and fulfillment working with “difficult” clients that challenge his heart and clinical skill set. It is his hope and desire that each resident that passes through Clearfork Academy will be one step closer to their created design.
Austin’s greatest pleasures in life are being a husband to his wife, and a father to his growing children. He serves at his local church by playing guitar, speaking and helping with tech arts. Austin also enjoys being physically active, reading, woodworking, and music.