Youth, as a rule, do not simply wake up one day with the idea of killing themselves. A plan for suicide usually develops over time in response to life events and psychological pain so severe suicide seems to be the only reasonable alternative. Youth who are experiencing “suicidal thought” or serious thoughts of suicide often exhibit changes in behavior that are identifiable signals of increased risk for suicide. The trouble is healthy youths may exhibit some of these behaviors, so all too often adults and friends around these troubled young people see the changes as a normal part of adolescence.
The truth is many of the behaviors on this list are just that – normal responses to the pressures of adolescence which is why they are referred to as “signs of concern” rather than “warning signs,” but note when taken individually, most of these give no cause for alarm. However, if a youth around you is exhibiting several of these changes or if the behavior seems to be out of character, trust your instincts and start asking questions.
What do the signs look like?
This may sound obvious, but youths are often overly dramatic in their speech, so phrases such as “I’d be better off dead,” “You won’t have me around to pick on,” or “I’m going to kill myself” are seen as just more youth drama. However, if this is not usually the way the youth in question talks, or if these phrases are accompanied by other behavior that concerns you, ask, don’t just ignore it and hope the feelings will pass.
Previous Suicide Attempts
Again, this may seem obvious. If a youth has attempted suicide, the pain must be great and action is needed. However, it may be difficult to recognize the attempt for what it is. Sometimes high-risk behavior, taking unnecessary risks, self-destructive behavior, or “half-hearted attempts” such as superficial wounds or overdoses of readily available medications can be signals the youth is seriously considering suicide to relieve the pain. Any instance of deliberate self-harm should be taken seriously and action should be taken.
Some youth who are considering suicide make “final arrangements.” They visit friends, give away prized possessions and, in some instances, even talk about or write out funeral plans. They seem preoccupied with death and the way things will be after they’re gone.
In a study by the Surgeon General’s office in 2001, it was reported that 1 out of 10 youths in the United States was “Clinically Depressed”. Adults often use the word “depressed” to mean a passing sadness or lack of energy. We all have times when we feel down in the dumps. In this case, however, these young people were exhibiting changes in behavior that showed they were experiencing severe psychological pain that required professional care. Depression in youths can be hard to spot because it often shows itself in behavior we, as adults, don’t associate with depression such as:
- Anger, increased irritability
- Sudden increase/decrease in appetite
- Sudden changes in appearance
- Dwindling academic performance, sudden failure to complete assignments
All of this can be normal but if it worries you, ask. If several of these behaviors have been in place for more than 2 or 3 weeks, ask then get help if you need it.