If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Suicide is a serious public and mental health issue in our world today and becoming educated on the factors that contribute to suicide and its prevention strategies is key to helping reduce the risk for suicide among youth and young adults in our families and communities.
According to the CDC, youth and young adults ages, 10-24 account for 14% of all suicides with suicide being the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-14 (CDC). LGBTQ youth are at a greater risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts at almost four times higher than their heterosexual peers with 23.4% of LGBTQ high school students reporting attempting suicide in a study conducted in 2019 (CDC).
Knowing the risk factors for suicide is an important first step in being able to identify when someone at any age may be at a higher risk for suicide. These include but are not limited to a history of suicide attempts themselves or in their family or friends, depression and or change or increase in substance use, chronic pain, violence, and or stressful life events such as the loss of a loved one, legal troubles, or financial difficulties and interpersonal stressors such as shame, harassment, bullying, discrimination, or relationship troubles. All these risk factors may contribute to anyone being at a higher risk for suicide (NiMH). Think of risk factors as being the yellow flags. One or more risk factors put people at a higher risk.
Being familiar with the warning signs of suicide is the next step in suicide prevention. These include but are not limited to talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, feeling empty, and hopeless, having no reason to live, feeling trapped, unbearable emotional pain, physical pain, talking about being a burden, withdrawing, giving out possessions, saying goodbye to family and friends, putting affairs in order, talking about death often, mood swings- very sad and then very happy, making a plan, obtaining means to end their life, increase in alcohol or drug use, change in sleeping and eating patterns (NiMH). Warning signs are red flags- if you notice one or more of these warning signs it is time to get more help.
Protective factors reduce someone’s risk for suicide and often include connections and relationships. Positive support from family and friends based on feeling connected to others is a very important protective factor for youth and young adults. Being part of a community based on connection, belonging, and support is essential. This protective factor helps young adults increase their ability to cope with the stressors of life and increase problem-solving strategies as well as increase their reason for living. A strong sense of cultural identity is also an important protective factor for youth and young adults (CDC). Finally, adults can help reduce the risk of suicide by reducing any access to lethal means. Such as locking and securing firearms and locking and or properly disposing of medications.
Actions steps you can take for any youth or youth-adult in your life
- Ask direct questions – don’t shy away from the subject, practice talking about suicide if this is something new for you. It is a myth that you will put the idea in their head by talking about it.
- Listen without judgment – it is super important to listen to young adults without judgment or criticism. Listen to what they are telling you and what they are showing you in their behavior. It is important to not minimize or dismiss their problems.
- Know your resources – know the local and national resources- put the numbers in your phone. Know what is available in your area and how you can share these resources with others
Suicide can be a scary and hard topic to talk about with anyone. A great place to start is by educating yourself on the risk factors, warning signs, and protective factors. Practice talking about the topic and asking direct questions. Get informed on the national and local resources in your area and get more support. Practice listing without judgment, minimizing, or dismissing, this will help create a space with young adults can openly talk. By reducing risk factors and looking out and acting when you see warning signs you can help reduce the risk of suicide.
Finally, increasing protective factors is also an essential part of the process. By taking these key steps in suicide prevention work, we can all support youth and young adults struggling with suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
Written by Jenna Najjar, LCSWA
Throughout September, we are highlighting resources around Back to School and Talking to Your Children about Mental Health. If you or a loved one need professional support, our counselors at Mathews Counseling are available for appointments. Request to book today!