Teen Suicide: Spotting the Problem before It is Too Late

Clinical Care Consultants is providing a presentation about Teen Suicide to Maine West and Maine East parents on 5/21/12.  In this post is the text version of the PowerPoint presentation.

The PDF version can be found here: PDF VERSION

Teen Suicide: Spotting the Problem before It is Too Late
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Catherine Ness, M.A., LCPC
Clinical Care Consultants


Teen Suicide: Spotting the Problem Before It Is Too Late

Teen Suicide: Spotting the Problem Before It Is Too Late

 Youth Suicide Facts

• Each year, there are approximately 10 youth suicides for every 100,000 youth
• 7400 youth suicide deaths in 2010
• The 3rd leading cause of death ages 15 to 24
• 10th ranking cause of death in U.S.
• Females attempt more than males
• 8.1 percent vs. 4.6 percent for males
• 5 times more males than females (ages 15 to 19) die by suicide
• 11 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death

Contagion or Copycat Suicides
• Suicides inspires others to follow
• Teen suicides follow patterns
• May follow suicides of friends or others in school
• May follow dramatic portrayals of suicides on TV or in other media
• Teens are naturally self-centered and unrealistic
• While depressed they may distort the reality of suicide
o Fantasies for attention & escape
o A dramatic & glamorous end to their problems
o Creating attention, sympathy, and large scale concern for them
• Vicarious experiences
o “If they couldn’t cut it, neither can I.‘”
o “If they succeeded in stopping the pain, so can I”

Risk Factors For Suicide 
• May not always indicate imminent risk for suicide
o A very serious possibility
• Links or correlates observed risk factors to actual suicide behavior
• Risk factors do not establish a cause of suicidal behavior
o An association found through research with groups of youth
o Research is based upon actual data or statistics

Risk Factors for Suicide (Continued)
• Low self-esteem
• Previous suicide attempts
• Depression, Bipolar and other mental disorders
• Family history of suicide
• Substance Abuse / Addiction
• Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
• Family violence
• Violence in the community
• Firearms in the household
o The method used in more than half of suicides
• Lethal amounts of medication or poison
• Nonsuicidal self-injury (cutting, burning, etc)

Risk Factors for Suicide Continued
• Well publicized suicidal deaths of peers, media figures, or role models (rock stars)
• Exposure to family or friends’ suicidal behavior
o The suicidal death of a friend or acquaintance
o Copycat phenomenon
• Physical, sexual abuse
• Emotional or verbal abuse
• Bullying
o Physical
o Emotional
o Cyberbullying

Protective Factors 
• Strong sense of self-worth or self-esteem
• Strong family and personal relationships
• A reasonably safe and stable family environment
• Academic achievement
• Sense of personal control or determination
• Family connectedness
• School connectedness
o Peers
o Teachers, counselors
o Coaches
• Reduced access to firearms and to lethal means
• Safe schools
o Violence and bullying are not tolerated
o Access to supportive people at school

Protective Factors (Continued)
• Safe and non-judgmental access to services for
o Mental health
o Medical / physical issues
o Substance abuse disorders
• Ongoing professional support or services
o Consistency and regularity
• Parent’s involvement with professional services
o Even if it is from the “outside”
• Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide
• Personal attitudes or values that are life affirming
• Age appropriate social and emotional development
o Decision-making, problem- solving, and anger management abilities’

Protective Factors (Continued)
• Opportunities to participate in and contribute to school and/or community projects/activities
• Good health and access to medical care
• Taking prescribed medications
o Especially for mental health disorders
• A healthy fear of risky behaviors and pain
• Hope for the future; optimism
• Sense of the importance of health and wellness
• Good impulse control
• Sobriety or in recovery (if substance abuser)
• Responsibilities/duties to others
• Pets

Suicide Myths
Myth 1: Once a teenager decides to kill himself, nothing can stop him

• Suicidal youth often feels alone and alienated
• They want to share their pain with someone who they believe cares
• They want help, but may not be able to ask for it
• Listening and caring are often all it takes to stop it
• Timely and effective medical and psychological services save lives!

Suicide Myths
Myth 2 : Young people talk about suicide mostly to get attention, therefore the best thing to do is to ignore the person
• A person who appears suicidal shouldn’t be left alone
• Get them immediate mental-health treatment
• Ignoring the teen increases the chance of a suicide attempt
• Suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention
• Young people are seeking attention for a reason
• Something is very wrong!
o Depression, hopelessness, pain and despair

Myth 3: Since depression is often a common sign of suicidal behavior, once the depression has subsided, the suicidal teen is out of danger
• Typically, when a suicide plan is completed, the deep depression transforms to an odd form of hope and happiness
• This is a VERY SERIOUS sign of imminence
• The signs are there (discussed later)

Myth 4: Because suicide may “run” in families it cannot be prevented
• Although suicide may be related to genetics or family patterns – it can be prevented
• It is likely that our parent’s (relatives) either:
o Didn’t have,
o Didn’t believe in,
o Had limited to no access to mental health services
• With appropriate and timely help/services transgenerational suicidal patterns can be stopped

Myth 5: If we ask a young person if they are thinking about suicide, we run the danger of putting the idea of suicide in their mind
• If a person is suicidal, they are suicidal for a reason
• Plans to kill one’s self does not come from random thoughts or a fleeting ideas
• Suicidal youth have spent enormous amounts of time and personal energy thinking (mulling over the “pros and cons”) about ending their life
• Conversely, asking questions may create an opportunity for relief and hope from their emotional despair

Myth 6: When a person tries to commit suicide and fails, the pain and shame will deter another attempt

• The suicidal person often has impaired and distorted thinking
• They also are emotionally unstable
• They lost the ability to discern “right from wrong”
• They may be fixated on a permanent “solution” or relief of their pain
• Failed suicide attempts may worsen their perceived pain

Warning Signs
• Major Depression
• Other serious mental illnesses
• A loss of desire for favorite things or activities
• Changes in physical habits, hygiene & appearance
• Comments or complaints (subtle or direct) about feeling bad, lost, worthless, or useless
• Appearance of suicidal themes in:
o Conversations
o Correspondences (letters or emails)
o Private diaries
o Facebook/Twitter posts
o Artwork
o School assignments

Warning Signs (Continued)
• Hints indicating suicidal thoughts or plans
• Pulling away from friends or family
• Social failures
o Dropped from cheerleading, cut from the team, rejected by peer group
• Giving away valued possessions
• Putting one’s affairs in order, cleaning his or her room, throwing away important belongings, etc.
• Self-mutilating / self-destructive behaviors
• A sudden loss of interest in school or sports
• Sudden changes in personality
o Atypical violent or aggressive behavior
• Threats of running away
• Running away

• Sudden promiscuity
• Trouble with the law
• Alcohol and drug abuse
• Escalation of a current drug or alcohol problem
o Drug & alcohol is involved in the majority of suicides
• Sudden signs of psychotic behavior or thinking
• Concurrent mental illness
• Increased focus interest or fascination with guns or other potentially deadly items
• Signs of extreme cheerfulness following periods of prolonged depression
• Open announcement of plans to kill self

Ask Questions
• This saves lives!
• Bring the information out by asking questions
• Resist your own discomfort
• Challenge your assumption that your teen won’t share his/her feelings with you
• Just because they tuned you out before doesn’t mean they will do it this time
• Explain why you’re asking
o “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?“
• Try your best to not over-react
• Be cool while reacting appropriately

Watch and Listen  
• Keep a close eye on a teen who is depressed & withdrawn
• Keep lines of communication open
• Watch your own tendency to shut down
• Express your concern, support, and love
• If your teen confides in you, show interest, and take his/her concerns seriously
• Do not minimize or discount what your teen is going through
• Remember: it is really hard to be a teenager!
• If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, find someone else for him/her to talk to
• When emotions are running high (conflict) suggest a neutral person with whom your teen can talk

What To Do If You Suspect 
• Take what your child is saying seriously
• Even if you believe they are just saying it out of anger or frustration
• Directly ask your child about their behavior or emotional changes
• Attempt to have a dialogue with your child
• If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately
• When you suspect suicide and you are not sure
o Take your teen to the emergency room
o Where a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation will be conducted
o Where you will be given referrals for appropriate resources

Get Help!
• Local mental health clinic, counseling center, or community services
• Call (800) SUICIDE or (800) 999-9999
• Make an emergency call to the child’s therapist
• Contact a school social worker
• If you’ve scheduled an appointment with a mental health professional – keep the appointment
o Even if your teen refuses
• If your teen refuses to go to the appointment, discuss this with a mental health professional
• Consider attending part of the session
• Contact the family medical doctor
• When all fails, call 911 or take him to the closes emergency room

Teen Suicide  Spotting the Problem Before It is Too Late  Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC Catherine Ness, M.A., LCPC

Clinical Care Consultants
3325 Arlington Heights Rd., Ste 400B
Arlington Heights, IL 60004
(847) 749-0514 ext 12

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