Current suicide rates for the 15-19 age group is currently running at around 4.4 per 100,000 (UK overall figure). For the 20-24 age group it’s a lot higher – 9 per 100,000.

In 2016 (latest figures) The Samaritans took over 5.7 million calls for help – many of them from people expressing suicidal feelings.

Not wishing to alarm anyone, but I’ve been there myself. It’s horrible. And terrifying. And, worst of all, it’s lonely.

Those of us who work with troubled young people need to know what we’re looking for, so that we can help. It could be a life or death issue…

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Risk factors you should know about…

Some things to look out for are:

– Big setbacks e.g. losing a job, ending a relationship, failing exams

– A marked change of behaviour e.g. seeming to be calm and at peace for the first time or, more often, being withdrawn or not communicating

–  Seemingly sudden loss of self-esteem

– Uncharacteristically socially isolated or becoming increasingly so

– Sleep problems – particularly waking up early, pacing at night

–  A sense of uselessness, futility and hopelessness – wondering “What’s the point?”

– Taking less care of themselves than normal e.g. not eating properly, not caring for themselves – showering, clothing, etc.

– Suddenly writing a will or applying for life insurance

– Mentioning or overtly talking about suicide. Most people who have taken their own lives have spoken about it to someone – it’s a myth that people who talk about suicide don’t go through with it

If someone has thought about or attempted suicide in the past, however fleetingly or rarely, they are more likely to resort to it as a means of coping when life becomes stressful again.

Individually, these issues may seem challenging but fairly benign. But sudden onset, particularly of a number of factors at once, should pique our attention and put us on alert.

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Background factors that might be relevant…

It’s important to take these factors for suicide very seriously:

– Previous talk about suicide

– Attempt/s at suicide or serious self-injury

– Pre-existing serious mental health issues: psychological or psychiatric disorders, particularly depression and/or other mood disorders 

– Substance misuse and/or alcohol problems

– History of abuse, neglect or other form of mistreatment, particularly where this is severe and unresolved

– Family member/s have taken their own lives

– Isolation or lack of social support

– Tendency towards feelings of hopelessness

– Ongoing physical ill health

– Impulsive tendencies

– Financial problems

– Relationship or other social loss/es

– Easy access to methods/means of suicide

– Previous exposure to others who have committed suicide

What Are Suicide Protective Factors?

Protective factors are things that reduce the likelihood of suicidal behaviour occurring. They include:

– Accessing the right professional help for physical, mental and substance misuse problems

– Developing problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills

– A supportive family member/s

– Community support – friendships and other trusting relationships, support groups, etc.

– Restricted or minimal access to the methods/means of suicide

– Support from medical and health care personnel

– Religious and cultural belief systems that discourage suicide

Looking out for risk factors, particularly combinations of them, can be a real help too. As can proactively asking how someone is, listening attentively to the response and not being judgmental in our advice and support.

As with many problems, one theme that crops up frequently as a protective factor, is access to trusting relationship/s. The ability to talk to someone, without prejudice, can save a life.

It is every good parent’s nightmare to outlive their children. Knowing a little bit about what to look out for and how we can support teens through turbulent times, might just avert the nightmare becoming a reality…

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Final thought…

Some of the items above may appear obvious. Hardly worth pointing out. But sometimes it’s the simple things, the taken-for-granted things that can have the greatest impact.

For more information & support…

What do you think?

  • What are your thoughts and observations about teen suicide?
  • Are you a mental health professional? Share your views here…

Please contribute to this discussion by adding your own thoughts and experiences. You can  leave a comment by scrolling down, or just click here.

Related previous posts…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013 (updated August 2018)