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TEEN ISSUES AND LIVING
by Jason Liptow
Suicide is a growing problem in society today in the United
States. According to the Centers for Disease Control,
in 1995 22,552 Americans died of homicide in 1995 while
31,284 died due to suicide (Teens Attempting Suicide).
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United
States (Dolce 13). While it is estimated that nearly 35,000
Americans commit suicide every year it is believed that
that number is closer to 100,000 because so many suicides
are ruled as accidents (Dolce 13). The number of attempted
suicides in the United States is even more overwhelming.
Approximately 5 million people now living in the United
States have attempted suicide (Dolce 13).
Meanwhile, suicide among teenagers is becoming a growing
trend as well. The third leading cause of death for Americans
between the ages of 15 to 24 is suicide, second only to
homicide and car accidents, according to the Centers for
Disease Control (Understanding and Preventing Teen Suicide).
Once every 80 seconds an adolescent attempts to take his
or her own life (Dolce 14). Again, these numbers may not
be accurate as many suicides and attempted suicides are
often reported as accidents, leading to the conclusion
that the problem of teen suicide is even greater than
what is reported (Teen Suicide APA).
Teen suicide affects everyone close to the victim
parents, friends, and siblings and family. For these people
it is difficult to overcome the suicide because they feel
guilty; the reason(s) for the suicide are often never
known. But teen suicide is a growing problem that can
The facts of teenage suicide paint a picture of sadness
and desperation in a time of turbulence for many teens.
During adolescence teens deal with a multitude of new
experiences such as new relationships, decisions about
their future, and the physical changes that are taking
place in their bodies. It is a very confusing and difficult
time for many teens. While many teens handle these changes
more easily than others, many become so overwhelmed by
them that they feel like they have nowhere to turn and
commit suicide. Adolescence is a time of great confusion
and anxiety for many. During this time teens feel the
pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically,
and to act responsibly (Understanding and Preventing Teen
Suicide). Adolescence is also a time of sexual awakening,
growing self-identity, and a need to be oneself that often
conflicts with the rules and norms of our society (Understanding
and Preventing Teen Suicide).
Teens that have a strong support group of friends, family,
religious affiliations, peer groups, and extracurricular
activities may have an outlet to deal with these everyday
frustrations. But teens without such a support group often
feel disconnected or isolated which often put them at
risk for suicide (Suicide Prevention). Every
day, fourteen young people commit suicide, or approximately
1 every 100 minutes (Teen Suicide). This rate has more
than tripled since the 1950s for teens (Dolce 14).
Why do so many teens attempt or commit suicide? Why has
the number of suicides and attempted suicides increased
so drastically in recent years? One of these reasons is
the connection between depression in teens and suicide.
It is important to understand that adolescents who are
suicidal often exhibit many signs or signals before they
actually attempt or succeed in suicide. Keeping an eye
on teens for these signals may allow parents, teachers,
and friends the opportunity to intervene before they actually
carry through with the act. Some of the signs are easier
to spot than others. The strongest risk factors for attempted
suicide in teens are depression, alcohol or drug abuse,
and aggressive or disruptive behaviors (Teen Suicide).
Teens that come from alcoholic or abusive families, have
suffered physical or sexual abuse, lack parental support,
and have a history of family depression are also at great
risk (Understanding and Preventing Teen Suicide). These
factors usually exhibit the easiest signs of possible
suicidal tendencies. Depressed moods, substance abuse,
frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated,
and impulsive, aggressive behavior are all signs that
are often exhibited in teens that have the highest risk
of committing suicide (Teen Suicide). If any of these
behaviors are detected in an adolescent they should be
referred to a professional psychologist, counselor, or
doctor for assistance.
Other signs or signals of suicide may not seem so obvious
or may appear to just be normal behavior for teenagers.
But it is important to not just dismiss these signs as
only regular behavior, especially if the teen has recently
undergone a major traumatic event in his/her life. Such
traumatic events may include divorce, loss of a family
member, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, abusive
parents, loss of a job by a family member, moving to a
different city or school, or suffering constant humiliation
or embarrassment at school (Teen Suicide). Some of the
signals that may accompany these traumatic events include
withdrawal from family and friends, no longer interested
in participating in events that they once enjoyed, giving
away possessions, talking of death or suicide, arguments
with parents and friends, inability to concentrate, sleeping
too much or too little, dramatic changes in personal appearance,
expressions of hopelessness, self-destructive behaviors
(promiscuity, substance abuse, or reckless driving, and
changes in appetite (Understanding and Preventing Teen
Suicide). Other signs include personality changes, complaints
about physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue,
poor schoolwork, and boredom (Teen Suicide, American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). Teens at risk of
suicide also may complain of being a bad person, become
suddenly cheerful after a bout of depression (because
they feel they have found the answer to their problems
in suicide), and signs of psychosis (Teen Suicide, American
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).
One of the most recent trends in factors that put teens
at risk for suicide is that of sexual confusion. Teens
who are dealing with homosexual feelings often feel isolated
and alone. This is especially true for those who lack
the support of friends and family. Many times they are
scared to even discuss their sexual feelings for fear
of being ostracized. Recent studies have shown that suicide
attempts are far greater amongst adolescent teens who
are gay, lesbian, or bisexual than among their heterosexual
peers (Understanding and Preventing Teen Suicide).
Brent Hafen includes many other underlying factors in
teen suicide in his book Youth Suicide besides those mentioned
above. They are worthy of mention because it is important
to know all of the factors that play a role in teen suicide.
Among those already stated Hafen includes the following
factors: disconnection with a parent, the expendable
child syndrome (in which the child feels he is no
longer wanted by the parents), role reversal (in which
the child must take on the role of responsibility in the
household), broken homes, lack of communication and understanding
with parents, high expectations to perform academically,
religious conflicts (in which the teen disagrees with
the parents religious beliefs), bullying at school,
constant moving from city to city, romanticized perceptions
of suicide, the need to send out a distress signal, overwhelming
shame or guilt, the desire to punish someone, tunnel vision
(the belief that suicide is the only answer to a problem,
no matter how trivial), exposure to violence, unresolved
grief, the desire to get attention, cluster suicides (in
which case a group of teens make a pact to commit suicide),
and poor impulse control (66-116). Although this list
may include factors that may seem trivial or even normal
for teenagers, it is the effect that they have on each
individual that make them important. As already stated,
even though many teens go through many of these same situations
and events and never attempt or commit suicide, there
are many that do not have the coping mechanisms or support
groups to deal with them. That is why it is so important
to look for warning signals from those who may actually
be thinking of committing suicide.
It is important to understand the factors and reasons
that adolescents attempt and commit suicide in order to
help stop the problem. It is also important to dispel
the myths surrounding suicide amongst teens in order to
gain a further understanding of how to stop the problem.
One such myth is that people who talk about suicide never
actually go through with it. This is probably the most
dangerous misconception, according to Laura Dolce in Suicide
(47). A person who talks about suicide is thinking about
it. He or she brings it up to test other peoples
reactions and is usually a cry for help. Dolce also dispels
other misconceptions in her book. It is believed that
people who commit suicide leave notes. Dolce states that
the majority of suicides do not leave notes and is one
of the reasons that many suicides are ruled as accidents
rather than suicides (47). Another myth is that people
who survive a suicide attempt never try it again. Dolce
points out that 80% of those who commit suicide have attempted
it before. The reason for this, she reasons, is that the
problem causing the need to commit suicide has not been
resolved (47). One of the biggest assumptions made about
suicides is that people from good families never commit
suicide. Dolce dismisses this claim, also, as suicide
claims people from all walks of life, whether rich or
poor. In fact adolescents who come from so-called perfect
families may feel even more pressure to excel (49).
It is often believed that people who attempt suicide are
crazy. Dolce again dismisses this as a horrible myth as
many teens that commit suicide are not mentally ill but
see no other solution to a problem that they are experiencing
and see suicide as the only answer to their problems (49).
Another myth among society about suicide is that those
who have attempted or thought about suicide remain suicidal
for the rest of their lives. Dolce stresses that while
many teens who have attempted suicide are indeed at a
higher risk for attempting it again, many go on to lead
normal lives. In fact, 70% of the general population has
considered suicide at some time in their life but never
go beyond that or act upon it (49). The last and possibly
most important myth about suicide pertains to the victim.
Many adolescents are drawn to suicide because they believe
that taking their own life is a way of exacting revenge.
They perceive themselves as having gotten back
at a parent, friend, or peer. What they fail to understand,
according to Dolce, is that suicide is permanent. It is
a loss for themselves and for the people who are left
behind. Suicide does not get even with anyone (50).
Once adolescents who are at risk for attempting suicide
are identified it is important to help them through whatever
they are going through to help prevent it. The American
Psychiatric Association stresses that the last things
these teens need are a lecture or to hear all the reasons
they have to live. What they need is to be reassured that
they have someone they can turn to in order to discuss
their feelings or problems, whether it is family, friends,
school counselor, teacher, physician, or religious leader.
(Teen Suicide APA). It must be a person who is very willing
to listen and who is able to reassure the individual that
their problems or depression can be treated. If, in fact,
the individual teen is suffering from depression, it is
important to get them professional help from a psychiatrist
or counselor (Teen Suicide APA).
While teen suicide is a severe problem in the United States
today, it is one that can be deterred, if not completely
eliminated. Looking for the proper signs and knowing about
the factors involved for at-risk teens is an important
step in solving the problem. All parents, teachers, counselors,
and doctors should be aware of these signs. Even friends
can play an important role in stopping suicide. Recognizing
the signs and factors is just the first step in solving
the problem. Finding the proper treatment is the next
step. But if at-risk students can be identified early
then that is half the battle. Its a battle worth
fighting since suicide is taking away so many promising
young people from society and they are missing out on
the wonderful gift of life.
Dolce, Laura. Suicide. New York: Chelsea House, 1992.
Hafen, Brent Q., and Kathryn J. Frandsen. Youth Suicide:
Depression and Loneliness.
Colorado: Cordillera Press, 1986.
Marcus, Eric. Why Suicide? San Francisco: Harper, 1996.
Palazzolo, Rose. Preventing Teen Suicide.
Psychology Today Online. May/June 2003.
20 May 2005. .
Shamoo, Tonia K., and Philip G. Patros. I Want to Kill
Myself. Massachusetts: Lexington
Suicide Prevention. Depression and Bipolar
Support Alliance. Online. 27 May 2005.
Teens Attempting Suicide. Online. 20 May 2005.
Teen Suicide. American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry. Online. 27 May 2005.
Teen Suicide. American Psychiatric Association.
Online. 20 May 2005.
Understanding and Preventing Teen Suicide.
Kidshealth. Online. 20 May 2005.
About the Author
Written by Jason Liptow, B.A. in Social Studies from Madonna
University, teacher certification from Saginaw Valley
State University in Social Studies and History is the
webmaster of Social Studies Made Simple. The goal of the
website is to provide information and links about history,
economics, and current events to students and teachers.
For entire article see www.socialstudiesmadesimple.com.