Causes and prevention of youth suicide

Suicide – that is the taking of one’s own life – has grown to become a serious problem in the public health sector that affects the entire spectrum of the population and more so young people. In 2012, nearly 11 per centof all reported suicides in the United States were among young people aged between 15 and 24 years (Kemp & Bossarte,2013). Suicide ranks as the third leading source of death for young people aged between 10 and 24 years. On average suicide has caused the deaths of about 4600 young persons every year. The three main methods used by youths in taking their own lives include poisoning (8 per cent), suffocation (40 per cent) and firearm (45 per cent).

Deaths emanating from suicide are only a tip of the iceberg. There are more youths who survive after attempting suicides than those who actually die. A survey covering the whole country and youth in grades 9 to 12 in both private and public schools found that 16 per cent of students in the United States were seriously contemplating suicide, 13 per cent had hatched a plan to take their own lives and 8 per cent reported to have actually attempted suicide in the past one year prior to the survey (Kemp & Bossarte,2013). The Emergency Departments in the U.S. give medical care to approximately 157,000 young persons aged between 10 and 24 years having self-inflicted injuries.

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All youth are affected by suicide, but various groups have a greater risk than others. For instance, boys are at a higher risk to pass away from suicide than girls because males usually use more vicious methods in their suicide attempts and are usually more successful, even though girls may carry out suicide attempts more frequently than boys (Borowsky, Ireland & Resnick, 2001). Of the suicides that were reported in the 10-24 age group, 81 per cent of the lives lost were males and 19 per cent were females. There are however more suicide attempts reported for girls than there are for boys. There’s also the presence of cultural variations in reported suicide cases. Native American youth or Alaskan Natives have the highest tolls of fatalities emanating from suicide. A countrywide survey showed that youth in grades 9 to 12 have a higher likelihood to report suicide attempts than their non-Hispanic, black and white counterparts.

Youth suicide risk factors

Suicide risk factors are the histories or habits that put a person at a higher likelihood of taking one’s own life. Some suicide risk factors may be inherited, like a family’s history of suicide. Other factors such as physical illness can be out of a person’s control (Davidson & Linnoila, 2013). However, when suicide risk factors are recognized early and acted upon to change those that can be controlled, one can save a life – either your own life, or that of a family member or a close friend.  For example, a professional mental health practitioner can be talked to for ways of dealing with factors such as feelings of hopelessness, mood disorders such as depression, and the privation of social support.

The following is a list of factors that do put young persons at risk of executing suicide, even though the presence of these risk factors doesn’t always translate to the occurrence of suicide.

  • Easy access to means or methods of suicide
  • Previous attempt or attempts of suicide
  • Exposure to people who have committed or attempted suicide
  • Mental and psychological disorders, more so depression as well as other mood disorders, social anxiety and schizophrenia.
  • Isolation and lacking social support
  • Alcohol disorders and/or substance abuse
  • Relationship issues
  • History of mistreatment or abuse
  • Social or financial difficulties
  • Family’s history of suicide
  • Aggressive or impulsive tendencies
  • Physical illness
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Youth suicide protective factors

There exist youth suicide protective factors, which are things one can do to reduce the likelihood of suicidal behavior (Swahn, Ali, Bossarte, Van Dulmen, Crosby, Jones & Schinka, 2012). These include:

  • Cultural and religious belief systems which discourage taking of one’s own life
  • Clinical and psychological care for mental, physical as well as substance abuse disorders
  • Developing conflict resolution and problem solving skills
  • Limiting and/or restricting access to means or methods of suicide
  • Support from health care and medical practitioners
  • Support from family and the community at large

The role of depression in youth suicide

The majority of young persons face great levels of confusion and stress, along with family and relationship issues. When these are mixed with young blood and raging hormones, it at times appears to be too much for the boys and girls to handle. The largest blame for the increasing youth suicide tendencies goes to depression (Swahn et al, 2012). An understanding of depression is very important if suicide among the youth is to be prevented. Depression is often times used to describe the general feelings of worthlessness as well as hopelessness. When youth are felling low, sad or powerless, they usually say that they’re depressed. While almost everybody will at one time or the other feel sad or low, the feelings that are predicative and indicative of depression last for lengthened period of time and are characteristically more serious (Luoma, Martin & Pearson, 2014).

Mental health practitioners such as psychiatrists and psychologists do diagnose and treat depression. One is said to be diagnosed with depression if she or he has five or more of these symptoms:

  • Either a suicide attempt or recurrent thoughts about death without any specific plan, or has a certain plan to commit suicide
  • Feeling sad, depressed or down for the better part of the day, as well as being angry and feeling irritable
  • Indecisiveness and/or having difficulty to concentrate
  • Losing interest in the day to day activities
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Noticeable weight gain or weight loss; a significant increase or decrease in appetite
  • Feeling sluggish; feeling hyper and very nervous
  • Sleeping too much or difficulty sleeping

When youth are feeling a great sense of helplessness, it is important that they talk to their guardians or parents (Luoma et al, 2014). Guardians and parents can assist in arranging for an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist for diagnosis as well as proper treatment, which can include therapy and/or medications.

Restricting access to means and methods of suicide

One important protective factor of youth suicide is limiting or restricting access to the methods of committing the same (Yip, Caine, Yousuf, Chang, Wu & Chen, 2012). It is crucial for family members and friends of someone who’s at risk of taking his or her own life to understand the various methods that are commonly used.

The use of firearms ranks as the most popular method of undertaking successful suicide among the teens and young adults. Adult friends, family members and more so parents of teens and young adults should take precautionary measures if they own guns (Yip et al, 2012). They should use locked cabinets and gun trigger locks to ensure that persons with suicide risk factors cannot have access to the weapon. These safety precautions will also work to prevent accidental misuse of firearms by children.  

The other suicide methods that are common include illegal drugs or overdosing on medications, cutting arteries, carbon monoxide poisoning, drowning and hanging. Family and friends of people showing suicide risk factors ought to take all steps that are available to restrict such people’s access to things such as medication, pipes, ropes and knives.

What to do if somebody threatens suicide

Any suicidal threat or even suicidal thought should be taken seriously. Even when that person appears to have the likeable “perfect lifestyle” on the outside, it’s impossible to recognize what could be going on behind the scenes (Luoma et al, 2014).

Youth contemplating suicide should be encouraged to seek immediate assistance from family, friends and mental health care or general health care professionals. It is important for anybody confronted with a youth threatening to take his or her own life to contact a mental health care professional as soon as possible. Even when in doubts regarding the seriousness of a suicide threat, it’s important to still consider it as an emergency and proceed to take appropriate action (Luoma et al, 2014).

There’re numerous resources available to youth who are considering terminating their own lives. Teachers, family members, close friends, as well as other members in the community can offer moral support and comfort to help avert suicide risk factors.  Community organizations and religious groups can prove to be a valuable resource. Also, there’re many suicide hotlines providing anonymous assistance.

References

Borowsky, I. W., Ireland, M., & Resnick, M. D. (2001). Adolescent suicide attempts: risks and protectors. Pediatrics, 107(3), 485-493.

Davidson, L., & Linnoila, M. (Eds.). (2013). Risk factors for youth suicide. Taylor & Francis.

 Kemp, J., & Bossarte, R. (2013). Suicide data report: 2012. Department of Veterans Affairs, Mental Health Services, Suicide Prevention Program.

Luoma, J. B., Martin, C. E., & Pearson, J. L. (2014). Contact with mental health and primary care providers before suicide: a review of the evidence.

 Swahn, M. H., Ali, B., Bossarte, R. M., Van Dulmen, M., Crosby, A., Jones, A. C., & Schinka, K. C. (2012). Self-harm and suicide attempts among high-risk, urban youth in the US: shared and unique risk and protective factors. International journal of environmental research and public health, 9(1), 178-191.

Yip, P. S., Caine, E., Yousuf, S., Chang, S. S., Wu, K. C. C., & Chen, Y. Y. (2012). Means restriction for suicide prevention. The Lancet, 379(9834), 2393-2399.

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