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Why do so many kids feel tempted to take their own lives? How can you tell if your child is susceptible to this trend and at serious risk of hurting himself? Studies have identified six top reasons for adolescent suicide:

  1. Depression. Always accompanied by a pervasive sense of suffering, hopelessness, and despair, severe depression often seems to be too much to bear. It is by far the most common reason for teen suicide. About 75 percent of deaths by suicide are the result of depression, anxiety, or a sense of being trapped in difficult circumstances.
  2. Psychosis. Malicious inner voices often command self-destruction for unintelligible reasons. People with schizophrenia will usually give honest answers about thoughts of suicide when asked directly.
  3. Impulse. Under the influence of drugs or alcohol, some people become overly emotional and attempt to end their own lives. When sober, these individuals usually feel genuine remorse.
  4. Cry for help. Some people don’t want to die—they want to send a signal to others that something is seriously wrong. They frequently use methods they believe won’t kill but often cause unintentional and irreversible damage.
  5. Philosophical reasoning. For some, the decision to kill themselves is a deliberate, reasoned choice, sometimes motivated by a painful terminal illness from which there is little or no hope of recovery.
  6. Mistake. Deaths in this category are often the result of experimentation with autoerotic asphyxiation—self-induced oxygen deprivation intended to produce sexual stimulation or a similar high.

Since the number-one cause of suicide among young people is depression, it’s particularly distressing that only one in five depressed teens actually gets the help, often due to fear of stigma. This is all the more reason for us as parents to keep an eye out for the symptoms of depression (see page 118).

It’s important to add that depression in and of itself is rarely sufficient to drive a young person to take her life. Almost every suicide has a triggering circumstance: an immediate crisis of some kind that compels kids to translate their feelings into action. These triggering circumstances can include such events as

  • divorce of parents,
  • violence in the home,
  • inability to succeed in school,
  • breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend,
  • feelings of worthlessness,
  • rejection by friends or peers,
  • substance abuse,
  • death of a loved one,
  • the suicide of a friend or acquaintance.

To a certain extent it would be fair to say that all teens, even the most normal and well-adjusted ones, are at risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior to some degree. That’s because adolescence can be a stormy and tumultuous time of life under the best of circumstances. Hormonally driven emotional swings can deepen the feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that many young people experience during this stage of development. And there are other factors that can come into play as well. For example:

  • Aggressive or disruptive behavior
  • Confusion regarding gender identity or sexual orientation
  • Spotty mental health screening
  • Poor access to mental health services
  • Reluctance to admit having a problem
  • Bullying (whether at school or online)
  • Disturbing societal issues and trends

Add to all of this the fact that many teens lack self-control and are temperamentally inclined to risky, impulsive behavior, and it’s easy to see the need for parental vigilance.

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