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Causes and Prevention of Youth Suicide
Suicide, which basically means to take one’s own life, has grown to become a serious public health problem that affects the entire spectrum of the population and more so young people. In 2012, nearly 11 per cent of 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, it has caused the deaths of about 4,600 young persons every year. The three main methods used by youths in taking their own lives, according to Kemp and Bossarte (2013), include poisoning (8 per cent), suffocation (40 per cent) and firearm (45 per cent).
Deaths emanating from suicide are just but part of the problem. There are more youths who survive after attempting suicide 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 who have self-inflicted injuries.
All youth are affected by suicide, but some groups have a greater risk than others. For instance, boys are at a higher risk to die from suicide than girls because they 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 years age group, 81 per cent of the lives lost were males while only 19 per cent were females. There are however more suicide attempts reported for girls than there are for boys. There is also 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 from these two cultural groups 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 their own life. Some suicide risk factors may be inherited, like family 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. It could be one’s own life, that of a family member, or that of a close friend. For example, a professional mental health practitioner can be consulted concerning ways of dealing with factors such as feelings of hopelessness, mood disorders such as depression, and privation of social support.
When a youth is predisposed to factors that encourage suicide and they start to contemplate about taking their own life, the resulting situation is known as suicidality. It is made up of suicidal behaviors and suicidal thoughts. Suicidal behaviors are those behaviors that are intended for causing direct self-injuries with a view to bringing to an end the life of an individual. Such behaviors include suicide and suicide attempts. The behaviors may be depicted through such actions as jumping from great heights, severe cutting, and hanging or strangulation (Andover et al., 2012). Suicidal thoughts imply having the plan or thoughts to engage in life ending behaviors such as the ones that have already been mentioned.
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 does not always translate to suicide.
- Easy access to means or methods of suicide
- Previous attempt or attempts at 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 lack of social support
- Alcohol disorders and/or substance abuse
- Relationship issues
- History of mistreatment or abuse
- Social or financial difficulties
- Family history of suicide
- Aggressive or impulsive tendencies
- Physical illness
- Feelings of hopelessness
Youth Suicide Preventive Factors
There exist youth suicide preventive 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 own life
- Clinical and psychological care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
- Development of 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
Majority of young people face great levels of confusion and stress alongside family and relationship issues. When these factors are combined with raging hormones, the situation at times become too much for the youth 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 in the prevention of suicide among the youth. Depression is oftentimes used to describe the general feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. When young people feel low, sad, or powerless, they usually say they are depressed. Luoma, Martin and Pearson (2002) note that 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 periods of time and are characteristically more serious.
Mental health practitioners such as psychiatrists and psychologists do diagnose and treat depression. One is said to suffer from 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 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 having 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, 2002). Guardians and parents can assist in arranging for an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist for diagnosis and as well seek proper treatment, which can include therapy and/or medications.
Restricting Access to Means and Methods of Suicide
One important preventive factor against youth suicide is to limit or restrict access to the methods used in committing the same. It is crucial for family members and friends of any person 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 used method for undertaking successful suicide among teenagers and young adults (Yip, Caine, Yousuf, Chang, Wu & Chen, 2012). Adult friends, family members, and specifically parents of teenagers 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 may also work to prevent accidental misuse of firearms by children. Other common techniques used in committing suicide include use of 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 to Commit Suicide
Any suicidal threat or suicidal thought should be taken seriously. Noteworthy, when a person appears to have the likeable “perfect lifestyle” on the outside, it is impossible to recognize what could be going on behind within them (Luoma et al., 2002). 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 approached by a youth threatening to take his or her own life to contact a mental health care professional as soon as possible. Even when in doubt regarding the seriousness of a suicide threat, it is important to still consider it as an emergency and proceed to take appropriate action. There are numerous resources available to youth who are grappling with suicidal thoughts. Teachers, family members, close friends, as well as other members in the community can offer moral support and comfort to help address suicide risk factors. Community organizations and religious groups can also prove to be a valuable resource. In addition, there are many suicide hotlines providing free assistance.
Andover, M. S. et al. (2012). The co-occurrence of non-suicidal self-injury and attempted suicide among adolescents: distinguishing risk factors and psychosocial correlates. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 6(1), 11–17.
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. New York, NY: 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. (2002). Contact with mental health and primary care providers before suicide: a review of the evidence. Am J Psychiatry, 159(6), 909‐916.
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., & Chen, Y. Y. (2012). Means restriction for suicide prevention. The Lancet, 379(9834), 2393-2399.