This is Part One of a three-part series of articles related to the alarming rise in teenage suicide, and the efforts to prevent what many have called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” In this segment we’ll analyze some of the problematic behaviors that should alert parents, teachers and physicians to potentially suicidal teenagers.
Blount Memorial Hospital pathologist, Dr. David Gilliam, officially declared suicide as a cause of death 27 times in 2002. Nine deaths by suicide were recorded in 2001, and the total was 14 in 2000. That makes Blount County’s 2002 suicide rate almost three times the national rate, and more than twice the State of Tennessee’s rate for the year. Captain Larry McMahan, of the Sevier County Sheriff’s Department, says, “My research shows there were eight verified suicides in Sevier County in 2002, and one was a juvenile.”
According to statistics in Dr. J.J. Mann’s book The Decade of the Brain, more than 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year. Tragically, youths are commonly the victims. Reports say that ten times more than those 30,000 people attempt suicide but survive. Identifying teenagers who are at risk for suicide is a major clinical challenge, because clinicians cannot easily distinguish between patients with major depression who will attempt suicide, and those who will not.
As if wars, murders, and parental abuse were not enough to devastate the minds of our young people, there is the self-destruction that comes in the form of suicide. More and more, teens seem to be turning to suicide as a desperate solution to seemingly insolvable problems such as divorce, single-parent homes, poverty, overtaxed school systems, negative peer pressure, and exposure to school violence and illicit drugs.
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for April of 1995 gave suicide as the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15-19 years in the United States. Sadly, that statistic remains the same in 2003. It’s been estimated that for every suicide, there are 50 to 100 attempts at suicide. These figures underscore the urgent need to seek a solution to the suicide epidemic among our young people in the 21st century.
Be aware of
In the United States, thousands of teenagers attempt suicide each year. More than 300 to 400 teen suicides occur per year just in Los Angeles County alone. That’s equivalent to one teenager lost every day of the year. Every attempt at suicide is really a cry for help and attention. For many, these feelings of hopelessness and helplessness lead them to attempt what’s called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
How can parents, teachers, social workers, the clergy, and others recognize a teenager who is potentially suicidal? They need to be aware of problematic behaviors in the teenager.