Suicide is a major silent killer of the youth in the society. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, teenage suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the age of 15 and 24 years. It is an increasingly growing health concern to both individuals and entire communities. Studies show that in recent years “more young people died from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, congenital birth defects, diabetes, and other medical conditions combined” (Dorland, 2007, p. 2).
Suicidal behaviour encompasses not only suicide itself but also suicide ideas and suicide attempts. The causes of suicidal distress are varied and include psychological, environmental, as well as social factors. Psychological factors such as depression and other mental disorders when coupled with substance abuse are the main culprits of suicide. Studies show that 90% of suicide cases are caused by these factors.
Depending on age, race, gender, life events and family situation, the suicide risk factors vary from person to person. The situation is not helped by external stressful circumstances imposed on young people who are under the burden of challenges of adolescence. “Take teenagers have been under family violence, physical or sexual abuse, disciplinary problems, sexual orientation, interpersonal loss, or bullying for example” (Dorland, 2007, p. 4). These factors may overwhelm a young person and lead to suicidal ideas or attempts (Pirruccello, 2010).
The effects of suicidal behaviour are catastrophic because it leads to preventable death, injuries and further depression or mental illness. If an individual survives attempted suicide, chances are they are likely to suffer physical injuries like broken bones or organ damage/ failure. Furthermore, it is never easy to escape from depression and other mental illnesses (Dorland, 2007). The damage imposed on family and friends in terms of ”mental health problems and the financial, medical, social, psychological, and emotional costs of suicide on members of the community are substantial” (Pirruccello, 2010, p. 5).
Key Elements That Place the Teenager at Risk for Suicide
The key elements that place the teenager at risk for suicide are varied and can be broadly classifies as psychological, environmental, and social. It is also important that they also vary with gender, race, family background and dynamics, and the life events. Emphasis is often placed on mental disorders such as depression and drug abuse as the main causes of suicidal behaviour. Substance-induced suicide often occurs in combination with other mental illnesses (Dorland, 2007).
A teenager normally has to deal with challenges that arise from adolescence which can be overwhelming to the young person. When external pressure adds to the adolescence challenges, they may become unbearable and thus induce risk for suicide. These elements include confusion arising from sexual orientation, interpersonal challenges, disciplinary issues, family violence or physical and sexual violence (Dorland, 2007).
According to the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the key elements that may lead the teenager to commit suicide include major depressive disorders. Parental depression, comorbid mental health, chronic medical conditions, and major negative life events all contribute to major depressive orders which are likely to cause suicidal tendencies in young people (Pirruccello, 2010).
Key Elements That Help Control Suicide in Teenagers
Suicide is pretty rare and it is not easy to accurately point out to persons with suicidal characteristics that are likely to commit suicide. However, some signs may help predict and thus control the likelihood of suicide in teenagers. They include;
- Mentioning of death or swearing to kill self in anyway is one of the indications of possible suicide.
- Loss of self esteem whereby the teenager feels worthless, guilty of oneself, or ashamed of him/ herself.
- Behavioral change in terms of loss of concentration at school, work or while undertaking routine works.
- Loss of appetite or weight, overeating among other feeding habits.
- Loss of hope – holding negative views about things and seeing no hope for change in the future.
- Mood swings – being easily irritable, apathetic, sad, tired, withdrawn, indecisive, anxious e.t.c.
- Events following recent loss through death, broken relationship, divorce, loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, separation, loss of interest in people and activities
- A teenager may also fear losing control by acting erratically and harming self and other people (Dorland, 2007).
Whenever any of the negative events above happens in the life of a teenager, it is advisable to monitor the person which is necessary to help averting possible suicide. Little wonder there are screening programs developed to help in identifying suicidal behaviour and consequently refer the patient for timely treatment. Such elements as the ones above help at-risk teenagers to be placed in contact with services which save lives (Pirruccello, 2010).
The USPSTF recommends that the screening of teenagers for major depressive disorders in order to provide ‘accurate diagnosis, psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioural or interpersonal), and follow-up should be carried out in recognition of the fact that major depressive disorders in teenagers is a serious disabling condition often associated with long-term morbidities and suicide risks. What complicates issues is that most teenagers suffering from depression are never diagnosed nor treated (Pirruccello, 2010).
Early detection of symptoms of depression and hence suicide can go a long way in controlling suicide in teenagers. Assessment of risk factors for major depressive disorders can be a daunting task because there are a variety of factors which contribute to these disorders. Furthermore, the majority of persons who develop major depressive disorders possess more than one risk factor. “The USPSTF observes that parental depression, having comorbid mental health or chronic medical conditions, and having experienced a major negative life event are important suicide risk factors that can be assessed accurately and reliably” (Dorland, 2007,p. 9).
Awareness and Communal Role in Suicide Prevention Programs
Suicide is an individual as well as a community problem. When one commits suicide, the repercussions are felt among family and friends. Given the alarming statics provided by studies over long period of time, and the fact that suicide is the third most killer of youth in the society, it is of paramount importance to spread awareness to the public about it. The entire community should take the center stage in sensitizing the members on suicide and keeping vigil of the elements that may lead to suicide (Dorland, 2007).
In addition to applying scientific evidence to delivery of psychological services, strengthening positive behaviour in teenagers and using workable research strategies, emphasis is also placed on collaboration with the community and linked services.
Teenagers spend most of their time in school and therefore a school is the most ideal forum for suicide prevention campaign. The significance of school-based public health approach to prevention of suicide in teenagers is illustrated by a series of events and publications in school psychology in recent years. According to three tier model of school-based public health approach for instance represent a holistic approach which increases the intensity to meet the needs of an individual student. The primary or universal level is designed for a given population of people like in a classroom whereby all the recipients are presented with the same emotional, behavioural, or academic problems (Dorland, 2007).
The secondary level is specifically designed for students who do not respond to the primary level intervention adequately. The tertiary level is also referred to as indicated tier. This level is ‘characterized by highly individualized and specialized interventions for those students who do not respond to the primary/ universal and selected levels of prevention and intervention (Pirruccello, 2010).
Universal or primary level prevention programs for suicide are increasingly gaining popularity in schools and do focus on increasing suicide awareness, providing information regarding risk factors and symptoms, teaching appropriate responses to peers who may come in contact with another personal who is suicidal, and how to identify teenagers who may be suicidal or at risk of suicidal behaviour.
As an effort to bolster public awareness, the suicidal programs are disseminated to all students of a population with the assumption that factors that contribute to risk of suicide are most often not recognized, diagnosed or treated. This is appropriate because when the students are made aware then they are better placed to identify the at-risk youths and can help in seeking treatment at the earliest opportune time.
The role of awareness cannot be left to schools alone. While it is appreciable that teenagers spend most of time at school, they also mingle with other members of the community. Even more significant is the fact that family dynamics play an integral role in suicidal behaviour in youth. The stimuli of actual suicide, suicidal behaviour, or suicide ideation can originate in any environment be it at school or at home. It is therefore important that an integrated approach to public awareness and involvement of entire communities in suicide prevention programs (Pirruccello, 2010).
In conclusion, teenage suicide continues to be a major problem in the society. Many suicide prevention programs have been devised to help in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of at-risk youth and have been disseminated for public health prevention of suicide Dorland, 2007). These programs clearly recognize the symptoms or signs of suicidal behaviour and provide guidelines on how to diagnose and treat the victims before the worst can happen. In addition, some programs apply scientific evidence to deliver psychological services, seek to strengthen positive behaviour and not merely focus on reducing problem behaviour, and use appropriate research strategies to widen the knowledge base as well as evaluate school psychology Pirruccello, 2010).
All these programs are implemented in collaboration of communities as major stakeholders in prevention of suicide, suicidal behaviour, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts. At all times the concerned parties must monitor those people prone to committing suicide by observing indicating behaviour and try to correct the situations before they can attempt to commit the act. Finally, as it has always been said prevention is better than cure, to curb the ever increasing rate of committing suicide among words, we must attempt to address the core issues instead of dealing with symptoms.
Dorland, J. (2007). Teen Suicide: A Prevention and Survivor Program. Journal of Psychology, 1(1), 1-24.
Pirruccello, L. M. (2010). Preventing Adolescent Suicide: A Community Takes Action. Journal of Psychology Nursing, 48(5), 1-9.