On Christmas Day in 2014, Sadie Walker committed suicide. The parents of this was a 15-year old girl describe her death as shocking; they had no idea she was struggling in any way. The morning of her death was filled with the joy of opening presents. Sadie got a new skateboard, something she had been asking for. Later that day, when she took the skateboard for a ride, she never returned.
Apparently, Sadie was on the phone with a male classmate for over 30 minutes while out for a ride. But the call ended in Sadie’s suicide. It’s unclear what Sadie and her classmate discussed, but it was enough for Sadie to take her own life. Days later, when shock among Sadie’s loved ones demanded answers, Sadie’s golf coach discovered that she had created an Instagram account weeks earlier. Sadie was contributing to online conversations about self-harm and suicide. Today, Sadie’s parents have a foundation in support of suicide prevention in honor of their daughter.
Suicide is the experience of taking one’s own life, and it happens among adolescents regularly. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes teen suicide as a serious public health problem. As a society we are in denial about the startling rates of suicides that exist among adolescents. Fortunately, there are parents, educators, and advocates (like Sadie’s family) who work hard in spreading awareness about teen suicide.
Despite being entirely preventable, suicide is the third leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 14, and suicide is the second among those between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the CDC. Suicide among children is a rare occurrence. But the suicide rate goes up dramatically for teens. According to the CDC, suicide among youth leads to approximately 4600 lives lost each year.
Statistics about Teen Suicide
Sadly, Sadie’s story is not all that uncommon. The statistics below reveal the truth about teen suicide. (These statistics are from the CDC, unless otherwise indicated.)
- Of students between 9th and 12th grades, 7.0% seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months (22.4% of females and 11.6% of males).
- 6% of students made a plan about how they would attempt suicide in the previous 12 months (16.9% of females and 10.3% of males).
- 0% of students attempted suicide one or more times in the previous 12 months (10.6% of females and 5.4% of males).
- 7% of students made a suicide attempt that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or an overdose that required medical attention (3.6% of females and 1.8% of males).
- Among Hispanic students in grades 9-12, the prevalence of having seriously considered attempting suicide (18.9%), having made a plan about how they would attempt suicide (15.7%), having attempted suicide (11.3%), and having made a suicide attempt that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or overdose that required medical attention (4.1%) was consistently higher than white and black students.
- The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).
- According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates, which is 21 people per 100,000, while the suicide rate for the United States is at 12 per 100,000.
- LGBT teens are more at risk for suicide than other teens, and they are 2-5 times more likely to attempt suicide.
Suicide and Depression
Depression is one of the most common contributors to suicide, and it is a psychological illness that continues to be a common among teens. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately, 8% of teens meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. One in five teens have experienced depression at some point in their adolescence.
Depression affects a teen’s thoughts and feelings, causing an adolescent to have negative thoughts about themselves, others, and the world. Often, untreated depression can lead to having suicidal thoughts. In order to feel better, a person begins to think about the worst possible solution.
In addition to depression, there are also other factors that can contribute to teen suicide. These include:
- divorce of parents
- domestic violence
- lack of success or progress in school
- feelings of unworthiness
- death of a loved one
- break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend
- struggle with addiction
- feelings of hopelessness
- having previous suicide attempts
- having a history of suicide or depression in the family
- having a history of physical or sexual abuse
- lacking a support network such as poor relationships with parents or social isolation
- struggling with homosexuality or bisexuality in an unsupportive or hostile environment
Suicide and Antidepressants
When teens begin to get treated for depression, they may take medication to take the edge of the symptoms, as well as participate in psychotherapy. Unfortunately, some antidepressants can actually contribute to suicidal thoughts.
There appeared to be evidence of a possible relationship between Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (a newer class of anti-depressants) and suicidal behavior in teens. As a result, in October of 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior (suicide attempts) in children and adolescents treated with SSRI antidepressant medications.
However, more recently, a comprehensive review of clinical trials through 2006 led to the following conclusion: the benefits for teens who take antidepressant medication outweigh the risks of suicidal thinking and behavior. For this reason, the FDA continues to approve the use of SSRI’s for children and adolescents with major depression and anxiety disorders.
As you can imagine, the use of anti-depressants for depressed teens should be closely watched. There has yet to be conclusive evidence that points to whether antidepressants are safe or not. If your adolescent is taking psychotropic medication, be sure to have a thorough talk with the prescribing psychiatrist about risks, benefits, and side effects of the medication.
Teen Suicide is Preventable
Suicide for teens is preventable. When parents have firearms or prescription drugs in the home with easy access, the rate of teen suicide increase. Nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. All firearms should be locked, without ammunition, and kept out of reach of children and teens.
The same is true for prescription medication. If teens have access to medication, they may be vulnerable to suicide attempts and successes. Just like firearms, prescription drugs (as well as alcohol and other drugs) should be stored away from a teen’s reach. Suicide is preventable when parents and adults take these measures to keep their teens safe.
Furthermore, teen suicide is preventable because often those contemplating suicide are doing so alone. Frequently, they are silent about their intentions and the problems they are facing. Yet, in most cases, it takes one person who understands. When teens feel accepted, loved, and seen for who they are despite whatever issues they may be facing, they are more likely to choose to keep their life.
Call for Support
If you suspect a teen is in trouble, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are funded by the Federal Government and their mission is to provide immediate assistance to individuals in suicidal crisis by connecting them to the nearest available suicide prevention and mental health service provider. Their number is 800-273-8255.
Other options include calling your local mental health provider or 911 for immediate support.