Teens and young adults these days are exposed to many risks that affect society. These risks include tobacco smoking, suicide, domestic violence, and mental health problems. These problems affect adolescents’ and young adults’ physical health and emotional state, causing depression and frustration. The fight against such ailments is not only the business of each person but of the whole society because his general well-being depends on each specific case. Suicide among adolescents remains a fundamental and pressing problem that requires urgent action to save more lives. This paper examines the problem of adolescent suicide, its causes, contributing factors, and solutions.
Review of Risk Factors and Contributing Factors
Advances in many sciences, such as psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, philosophy, law, sociology, religious studies, cultural studies, ethnography, literary studies, and others, contributed to the development of suicidology. This science studies the theoretical and practical aspects of auto-aggressive human behavior. The causal relationship is often difficult to grasp; the obvious factors at first glance turn out to be indirect. Almost all risk factors can be divided into three groups – socially stressful, regional, and ethnocultural. At the same time, the determining factors are divided into two groups – predisposing and potentiating. The former may be sufficient reasons for suicide; the latter only slow down or accelerate this process.
As for social stress factors, their negative influence on the frequency of adolescent suicides is recognized by all researchers. However, it was possible to establish another critical feature: the frequency of suicides in the population is influenced not so much by the unfavorable socio-economic state and low standard of living but by inevitable social cataclysms that have a stressful effect on most of society (Belfort & Miller, 2017). In other words, poverty itself among adolescents does not lead to thoughts of suicide; only certain events, the cause of which was poverty, can have an irreparable effect on the psyche of a child or adolescent.
Predisposing factors include stressful situations, the use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, the personality traits of a teenager, or the presence of a severe illness. The second group of potentiating factors includes ethnocultural (the geographical location of the region and its predisposition to suicide among adolescents), incomplete or problem families, pathologies in upbringing, conflicts with peers, and the influence of the media, which can even lead to group suicides due to the effect developed in adolescents imitation (Fuchs, 2019). Finally, the realization of intentions is facilitated by opportunity, loneliness, and almost all of the above factors.
It is not easy to differentiate the genuine aspirations of leaving life from demonstrative attempts to obtain love, attention, advantages, benefits, and desired things in children. Suicides in children and adolescents, unlike adults, can be triggered by minor life events. The means for leaving life do not correspond to the severity of their desires and accidentally lead either to severe health problems or practical ones that do not bring any harm. The nature of suicidal behavior depends on how children understand the irreversibility of death due to eugenics or upbringing.
Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
The prevalence of attempted suicide among adolescents is high. However, it has significant differences in various ways: women attempt more often than men, although men are more likely to die by suicide. In addition, students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and experience problems with these thoughts and attempts more often than those who identify as heterosexual (Rivers et al., 2018). There is a unique system that collects data on suspicious behavior of adolescents, and it is called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). The framework does not address suicidal tendencies directly but does consider six of the most contributing causes: behavior that contributes to unintentional injury and violence; sexual behavior associated with an unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; the use of alcohol and other drugs; tobacco use; unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. System statistics and reporting are collected through numerous and varied surveys. As a result, the most recent statistics for 2019 show that depression is observed in half of the surveyed adolescents with the same overall indicator of probable causes – tobacco use, drugs, problems with laws, and sexual behavior (YRBS, 2019). These indicators only prove the relevance of this issue.
Prevalence of Health Risk
Researchers have proven that there are biological factors of predisposition to suicide. These include a decrease in the activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin, disorders in the hypothalamic-pituitary system, and genetic factors, when not the suicidal behavior itself is inherited, but the risk of its occurrence. The risk is higher in families where suicide attempts have already been observed in relatives. Suicidal thoughts are often accompanied by depression, sleep or appetite disturbances, anxiety, withdrawal, lack of satisfaction, and sadness.
In order to prevent the risks of suicide, they should always be observed the adolescent in terms of four problems: isolation (the feeling that the adolescent is not understood, not interested); helplessness (the feeling that a teenager cannot control his life, everything does not depend on him), hopelessness (when the future does not bode well); a sense of their insignificance (wounded self-esteem, low self-esteem, feelings of incompetence, self-shame). Furthermore, even thoughts of suicide can negatively affect health. These symptoms include lack of sleep or increased sleepiness; violation of appetite; signs of anxiety, outbursts of irritability; increased feelings of anxiety, sad mood; signs of eternal fatigue, loss of strength, loss of energy inherent in children; unkempt appearance; increased complaints of physical ailment; tendency to rapid mood swings; distance from family and friends; excessive risk in actions; expressions of hopelessness, preoccupation with thoughts of death, talking about their funeral (Ordaz et al., 2018). Therefore, it is also worth considering that if a teenager has the above symptoms, he needs help since the inclinations may not be obvious even to himself.
The Role of the Doctor
The problem of the role of a psychologist or a doctor in this situation is most acute. At best, if the teenager’s problems do not allow him to open up to his parents, friends, or other close people, he will share the problem with the doctor. However, this is far from always the case; most often, the teenager withdraws into himself and is not ready to share the problem with a stranger. Therefore, the doctor’s role primarily includes not aggravating the situation and observing all the norms of communication with adolescents, such as positive, simple sentences and maintaining emotional calm.
A psychologist or a doctor, in most cases, is unable to solve all the problems of a teenager since this lies outside his authority. The main task is to reveal the essence of the problem, describe it to stakeholders (parents, friends, teachers at school), and propose solutions. Further work falls on the shoulders of both the doctor and the adolescent’s environment, especially if the problem lay in the relationship between loved ones. Sometimes even activities aimed at improving the situation of a teenager do not include a direct conversation with him, at least for the time being. A qualified professional should identify the problem and propose the best and safest solution for the adolescent.
Ways to Identify and Solve the Problem
Adolescents commit suicide mainly when they do not see a solution to their problems if attempts to cope with problems have failed and when the feeling of hopelessness sharply aggravates. Therefore, the formation of psychological stability is an essential direction in the prevention of suicide. Prevention primarily includes short-term stress management techniques for adolescents that include simple positive-minded suggestions, caring, breathing space, distraction, focusing on personal strengths, and using a “let it be!” or “whatever is done is for the best.” Such preventive actions must always be taken, even without the presence of appropriate signs indicating suicidal tendencies.
It is necessary to nurture self-esteem in children to prevent suicide. It is essential that the child feels like a person, respects himself, views, and decisions learn to feel his individuality and community with others and appreciate the uniqueness and endless diversity of life. However, self-esteem can also become painful, which in turn, along with other character traits such as gullibility, impulsivity, and emotional instability, can provoke the appearance of suicidal tendencies.
When conducting a conversation with a teenager contemplating suicide, it is recommended to listen carefully to the interlocutor, because adolescents often suffer from loneliness and inability to pour out their souls; correctly formulate questions, calmly and intelligibly asking about the essence of the disturbing situation and what kind of help is needed; not express surprise at what he heard and not condemn him for any, even the most shocking statements; not to argue and not to insist that his misfortune is insignificant, that he lives better than others; saying “everyone has the same problem” makes the child feel even more unnecessary and useless; try to dispel the romantic and tragic halo of the teenager’s ideas about his own death; not offer unwarranted consolations, but emphasize the temporary nature of the problem; strive to instill hope in the adolescent; it must be realistic and aimed at strengthening his strength and capabilities; be attentive to all, even the most insignificant grievances and complaints, a teenager may not give vent to feelings, hiding his problems, but at the same time be in a state of deep depression, not be afraid to ask the child directly if he or she is thinking about suicide.
One of the possible solutions for preventing such thoughts is the project proposed in this work to create extracurricular activities in the school that will meet modern trends and the specific interests of the majority of students. Involving adolescents in such activities will allow them to establish contact with each other, improve their communication skills, and adapt to external, cultural, and ethnic differences. Involvement in school life under the supervision of teachers and psychologists will make it possible to observe children’s behavior better and analyze it for possible deviations. In other words, keep a finger on the pulse. Such activities will help explore more examples of child and adolescent behavior and develop deeper analytics while conducting anti-suicidal activities. Involving adolescents in school life reduces the possibility of such thoughts arising, especially if they are sincerely interested in the subject of such meetings.
The suicidal behavior of children and adolescents has several characteristics characteristic of a growing organism and personality. Cases of suicidal behavior in children, for example, suicidal statements, can be noted as early as 5-6 years of age, then at 7-10 years of age and older, along with suicidal statements, children can also commit suicidal attempts, which sometimes, unfortunately, end in the death of the child. Suicidal activity increases sharply in adolescence from 14-15 years and reaches its maximum at 16-19 years.
One of the reasons for choosing a suicidal way of solving problems is a bad attitude towards death. The child does not have the idea that death is irreversible. Instead, the child perceives his “temporary” death as a way of influencing significant relatives – arousing sympathy, punishing. By the end of adolescence, the correct concept of death is formed as the irreversible cessation of life. Due to the immaturity of judgments and the lack of life experience, even an insignificant conflict situation seems hopeless and becomes exceptionally suicidal.
It is believed that half of the adolescent suicide attempts are demonstrative, i.e., with no real intention to die. However, it is not always easy to distinguish between genuine and demonstrative attempts. The absence of fear of death underlies the choice of all kinds of dangerous games; the lack of life experience leads to dramatic ways of leaving life. The conventionality of dividing suicidal behavior in childhood and adolescence into actual and demonstratively blackmailing is becoming clear. Therefore, all suicidal actions at this age should be regarded as valid, and each fact of attempted suicide should be subjected to deep analysis.
Teenagers most often resort to demonstrative suicide, hoping that they will be rescued in time. They explain it as “unhappy love,” but the real reason is wounded pride, loss of valuable attention, and fear of falling in the eyes of others, especially peers. Alternatively, perhaps the need to extricate himself from a difficult situation, avoid punishment, evoke sympathy, and gain a reputation for being an exceptional person.
Adolescence is so rich in conflicts and complications that it can be considered a “continuous protracted conflict.” The teenager reacts to what is happening, which is primarily due to his self-affirmation. It is expressed in the desire to free oneself from the guardianship, control, and patronage of adults and extends to the orders, rules, laws, and values established by them. Almost instinctively, he unites with peers, mainly for communication. Self-affirmation and communication are extremely important for a teenager. Blocking these needs can cause severe internal conflict – the cause of suicide.
Modern clinical suicidology is based on the understanding of suicidal behavior as a dynamic process, the development of which goes through some stages that arise due to the influence of certain groups of determining factors – predisposing, triggering (triggering), and implementing. Autodestructive tendencies can arise in a person early, influencing his development at different age stages. Inherent in the transitional age, fixation on their own “I,” a tendency to introspection, reassessment of values, passion for the problems of the meaning of life, the search for their place in it, together with an uncompromising, unambiguous assessment, the significant influence of emotions essentially make adolescents a group of increased risk about difficult their point of view, situations by suicide. The problem of suicide prevention is exceptionally complex. It is known that no one has the right to interfere in someone else’s life. However, the opposite can also be said: each person is not endowed with the right to dispose of his own life. Once given, such a gift should be treasured like the apple of an eye, especially among young people. This awareness is necessary for everyone to solve an important task – preventing suicide in children and adolescents.
Belfort, E. L., & Miller, L. (2017). Relationship Between Adolescent Suicidality, Self-Injury, and Media Habits. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 27(2), 159-169.
Fuchs, S. (2019). Representations of suicide, suicidality and its interconnectedness with psychiatric disorders in 21st century American young adult fiction (Doctoral dissertation, unified).
Ordaz, S. J., Goyer, M. S., Ho, T. C., Singh, M. K., & Gotlib, I. H. (2018). Network basis of suicidal ideation in depressed adolescents. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226, 92-99.
Rivers, I., Gonzalez, C., Nodin, N., Peel, E., & Tyler, A. (2018). LGBT people and suicidality in youth: A qualitative study of perceptions of risk and protective circumstances. Social Science & Medicine, 212, 1-8.
YRBS. (2019). The United States 2019 Results. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web.