Up to this point we’ve done a lot of talking about what it means to parent children effectively and set them up for healthy lives. We’ve looked at some of the traps the world lays for them, the obstacles that can trip them up along the way, and the mental health issues that can send them spinning off in dangerous directions. All of this has been good, solid information, but there’s an important sense in which it’s only preparatory to our real task. Now it’s time to get down to the heart of the matter.
Teen suicide has become a huge problem in our society. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that for each teen who actually dies by suicide as many as twenty-five teens contemplate taking their lives. Apparently, quite a few of our young people are giving a great deal of thought to the possibility of ending their own lives.
Before we can fight back effectively, we need to find out exactly what we’re up against. There’s a story to be told here, and the relevant statistics can help us get a handle on it.
Teen Suicide: What Do the Numbers Tell Us?
What precisely is happening in the world of teen suicide? Here’s a quick rundown of some basic figures:
According to the most recent statistics (2013) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide (22 percent) is now second only to accidents (45 percent) as a leading cause of death among young people ages fifteen to twenty four, ranking tenth among subjects of all ages. The average number of teens who take action to end their lives per year is now 575,000. Of those, 4,600 die by suicide (about twelve per day on average). Of those teens who think about suicide, about half actually put their thoughts into action.
Among students in the ninth to twelfth grades,
- 17 percent thought about suicide in the last twelve months (22.4 percent female, 10.3 percent male);
- 13.6 percent made a specific suicide plan in the last twelve months (16.9 percent female, 10.3 percent male);
- 8 percent actually took action to end their life one or more times in the last twelve months (10.6 percent female, 5.4 percent male);
- 2.7 percent required medical attention after suicidal actions (3.6 percent female, 1.8 percent male);
- Montana, Wyoming, and a few other western states have consistently registered the highest age-adjusted suicide rates. The problem is particularly acute in small towns and rural areas where there is limited access to mental health resources and greater access to firearms.
It’s important to add that girls are more likely to take suicidal actions than boys—three times more likely. On the other hand, boys are more likely to die by suicide on their first attempt. As a result, 81 percent of all teen suicide victims are male.
This is largely a reflection of the different methods employed by boys and girls. Firearms are used in 56.9 percent of male suicides. Girls resort more frequently to drugs or some other form of poisoning (34.8 percent). The numbers may also be due to the fact that females usually find it easier to verbalize suicidal feelings and reach out for help, whereas boys tend to keep their emotions pent up inside.
The statistics on suicide methods suggests some rather obvious ways in which you can prevent the tragedy of suicide from overtaking your son or daughter. You may not be able to protect your teens from every eventuality and negative influence, but there are some very simple things you can do to head this potential monster off at the pass:
If you have firearms in the house, make sure they’re locked away in a safe place—all the time—and don’t let your kids have the keys or the access codes. If your kids are involved in hunting or shooting exercises, make sure your kids engage in these activities only under adult supervision.
Meanwhile, make a clean sweep of your medicine cabinet and get rid of any old pharmaceuticals that are no longer needed. Stash current prescriptions in a safe or a locked cabinet where they won’t be available to anyone except the person who actually needs them. You’ll be glad you did.
As parents, work on your relationship with your kids and do everything possible to strengthen their sense of identification with the family. Encourage participation in church youth groups, school sports, music, orchestra, or dance classes. Invite your children’s friends over to your house on a regular basis. Make your home the cool place for kids to hang out. Communal involvements of this nature are good buffers against depression, moodiness, and suicidal thoughts.