I have been saddened by the recent suicide of Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski. It is hard for me to fathom the pain his parents are suffering at the loss of their son. There are really no words for the shock and grief that is felt on so many levels.
Unfortunately, teen suicide is not as uncommon as you might think. Each year, there are thousands of teens that commit suicide. Suicides are the 3rd leading cause of death for 15–24 year olds. In 2000, the CDC reported 1 out of 12 teens attempts suicide and up to 1 in 5 teens state that they have contemplated suicide at some point during their adolescent years. The statistics also show that the incidence of teen suicide has been increasing over the last years, which seems to correlate with the mounting pressures, both real and perceived, that our youth feel. As an adult I think "what could be that terrible to drive a teen to end their life when so much lies ahead of them?”. But a teen’s brain is not fully developed, and as any parent with a teen knows, teenagers are often impulsive with little thought of the true consequences of their actions.
Teen suicides are usually related to depression, anxiety, confusion and the feeling that life is not worth living. An event such as a break up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, substance abuse, or failure at school may lead to suicide.
There are also gender differences among teens who commit suicide. Teen girls are more likely to attempt suicide than teen boys. With that being said, teen boys are more likely to complete a suicide. Girls are more likely to use an overdose of drugs to attempt suicide while boys are more likely to shoot themselves. While a girl may use an overdose or cutting as a “call for help”, there is often little opportunity for intervention with a male who sustains a self inflicted gun shot or may even hang themselves. Male suicide attempts are typically more violent and are 4 times more likely to be successful.
There are several things that parents, teachers and friends should be aware of as “warning signs” for adolescent depression and the possibility of suicide. A teen who suddenly becomes isolated, changes friends, has a change in their school attendance or grades, has a substance abuse problem, is being bullied or begins to make statements in reference to ending their life, should be taken seriously. Professional help is absolutely necessary when dealing with these issues and parents should not attempt to “solve the teens problems” on their own.
There are numerous resources available and the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE is a 24 hour service. Lastly, over half of teen suicide deaths are inflicted by guns. Firearms should not be kept in a home unless they are locked, and the key should always be in the care of a parent. It might also be prudent not to have ammunition in the house if you do have a gun. If an impulsive, depressed teen has to go buy ammunition before attempting suicide they might be more likely have an epiphany and realize that things are not as hopeless as they think. Any deterrent may be all that is necessary to prevent a suicide and the ensuing heartbreak for all those that knew them.