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Perhaps the most devastating experience a parent can have is the death of a child. When that death is caused by suicide however, the loss is even more devastating, as guilt and recrimination can become overwhelming, to the point that a parent may become completely unable to function for long periods of time. The feeling of loss, guilt, anger may never leave, which may lead to chronic depression and to thoughts of suicide by the parent.
The real tragedy of youth suicide, beyond the loss of a child, is the long-term effect on every person the child knew; for the pain will never leave any of them.
The first task of adults in preventing youth suicide is to know the signs of a child at risk. While there are certainly behaviors that indicate a young person is contemplating suicide, we must also be conscious of situations which place our youth at risk: physical and sexual abuse, emotional trauma, regular exposure to violence, divorce, the loss of a loved one, and even natural disasters. It is the increased stress caused by situations such as these that may lead a young person to believe that he or she can no longer cope with life; that it is “just not worth it” any longer.
The good news is, there are signs we can watch for when the young people we care for are exposed to high stress, or long-term, stressful situations.
From the National Association of School Psychologists, USA:
The Warning Signs of Youth Suicide
- Suicide notes – Must never be ignored. They are a very real sign of danger and should be taken seriously.
- Threats of self-harm – These may be direct threats, such as “I want to die,” or “I’m going to kill myself,” or harder to interpret indirect threats, such as “The world would be better without me,” or “Nobody will miss me when I’m gone.”
- Previous suicide attempts – If a young person has tried once, they will often try again.
- Depression – When symptoms of depression include pervasive thoughts of helplessness and hopelessness, a child or adolescent is conceivably at greater risk for suicide.
- Masked depression – With risky behaviours, such as acts of aggression, playing with guns, and alcohol and/or drug abuse.
- Making “final arrangements” – Which may include giving away prized possessions such as toys, clothing, CDs and video games, or pictures.
- Cutting and hurting self – Self-mutilation can begin at a surprisingly young age and is a strong indication that a child is at risk for suicide.
- Inability to concentrate or think rationally – Which may manifest as rowdy classroom behavior, poor study habits, and even the inability to hold a conversation.
- Themes of death and suicide – Which may appear in drawings, writing, music and movie choices, and conversations.
- Making plans, experimenting with methods, having access – In other words, if a young person has the means, method, and motive, the risk of self-destructive behavior is far greater.
Especially when combined with high-stress situations as described above, any of the behaviors listed will increase the risk that a young person may try to commit suicide. As adults, it is our responsibility to be aware of the situations and signs that put children at risk of hurting themselves, and we must take this responsibility seriously.
Do you know a young person you believe is at-risk of youth suicide? Contact us today for a consultation.