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Teen suicide affects more than just victim

Look for warning signs and risk factors to help prevent tragedy

Posted: January 15, 2009 10:13 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The past year was a tough year here in the Santa Clarita Valley, especially when it came to our teenagers.

In 2008 the headlines shared the news of one teenage girl who came close to committing suicide (she had a gun, and a plan), but sent a text message to a friend who notified school authorities and her attempt was thwarted. Another teen shared with a school counselor, a proposed plan for her suicide and immediately the school counselor sought help. The teen found herself in a behavioral health unit especially designed for teens, her needs were met and the healing began.

The SCV lost a young adult to suicide this past summer. Imagine being a parent and walking into your child's bedroom only to find that he hung himself. Bullycide (suicide as a means to end non-stop bullying) took the life of a 14-year-old Vasquez High student this past October.

While you may think these are isolated incidences, one in four youth will struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Make that half by the age of 20. For those ages 10 - 19, suicide is the second leading cause of death and third-leading cause of death for those ages 20 - 24.

Suicide is a scary, dark, mysterious issue and it's hard for people to really grasp how common it is. Many people consider suicide at one point or another.

However, When you're a kid, you have fewer experiences and resources to draw upon to say "You know, things are going to get better and this is temporary."

Teens need adult guidance more than ever to understand all the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing. When teens' moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may indicate a serious emotional or mental disorder that needs attention - adolescent depression. Studies show that suicide attempts among young people may be based, on long standing problems triggered by a specific event.

Many teens who commit suicide have low self-esteem. And don't be fooled. The child with poor self-esteem isn't necessarily the introvert who hardly opens his or her mouth. It is as likely to be a chirpy, vivacious teenager who is the heart and soul of the party.

Teens bury their emotions within themselves until they reach a bursting point and commit irrational acts. It is a fact that if teens shared their problems, half of the suicides could be prevented. Most of the problems faced by teens are grossly exaggerated in their emotionally wrought state.

Some suicides are impulsive and some suicides are planned. Studies show that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings. They just don't wake up one day and decide to end their lives. The thought of ending their lives is niggling somewhere in the back of their mind and gaining importance day-by-day.

Suicide risk factors
There are times in a teenager's life that can contribute or make a teen more vulnerable to a suicidal act.

These include:
n The breakup of a relationship with a girlfriend. This is one of the most common causes and a very significant event.
n Failing or doing badly in a test.
n Feeling badly humiliated.
n Recent loss of a friend, a family member, a pet from death or suicide. Sometimes, very rarely, a suicide in a school or community can act as a trigger for other teens.
n Parent's divorce.
n Abuse.
n Bullying victim.
n Problems with the law.
n An unplanned pregnancy.
n Causing injury or death to another person.
n An anniversary of a tragic event.

Prevent suicide
Myths abound about suicide, especially teen suicide. Parents often believe that it can't happen to their teenager; that talking about suicide will lead to a suicide; that a suicide attempt is a manipulative behavior and therefore should be ignored or even punished; that suicides come out of the blue with little or no warning; that teenagers will "learn" from their "mistakes" and they won't try again, and that depression and other mental disorders do not occur in young people.

Parents can help prevent suicide by fostering open, honest communication with teens. If a teen trusts you enough to come to you with a problem, take time to listen immediately. Delay may only fuel feelings of doom in the teen.

The following strategies may be helpful when dealing with teens and suicide:

n Talk about suicide in an open manner. Teens need to be given a chance to discuss suicide by voicing their thoughts and opinions. Candid discussion is important particularly when a teen suicide has occurred in a community.
n Let young people know about local hotline telephone numbers and crisis intervention services.
n Model healthy behavior and positive problem-solving approaches. Adults can be models for young people by dealing with their own stress in a constructive manner.
n Use television shows, films, newspaper articles and other media as a trigger for a discussion of effective ways to deal with stress and depression.
n Provide opportunities for group support. Teens sharing problems with other teens who help find solutions can be beneficial.
n Get help for a teen who expresses suicidal intent or shows the warning signs - it is important. There are a number of avenues open to you to get the teenager the help he or she needs. Support and reassurance are important. Help is available from a number of different sources - school, school councilors, teachers, family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, voluntary organizations, community mental health center, local hospital or social agency.

In an urgent situation contact your family doctor, or consult a mental health doctor. If a teen is in what you believe to be is imminent danger call 911, do not leave them.

Cary Quashen is a certified addiction specialist and the founder and president of ACTION Parent & Teen Support Programs and the ACTION Family Counseling Centers. Quashen may be reached at (661) 713-3006. The ACTION Hotline number is 1-800-FOR TEENs. ACTION Parent & Teen Support Group meetings meet at Saugus High School, Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Q Building at the west end of the campus. Saugus High School is located at 21900 Centurion Way, Saugus.


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