How You Can Help Prevent Suicide in Youth – Opinion

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll, especially on our youth. Emerging data suggests that concern about depression and suicide has increased among teens and young adults ages 12 to 21.

Suicide, especially youth suicide, can be a very difficult topic to broach and discuss. For that reason, having those conversations is much more important. Talking about suicide helps bring it to the fore. Helps youth and adults recognize and accept that suicide is not a dirty word.

Contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide does not encourage or lead anyone to act. Nobody gets hurt by having the conversation. Rather, it often allows the adolescent or young adult to give voice to their struggle, the ongoing struggle. It gives them a much needed audience.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14. It is vital that, as a member of the human race, you understand the signs and symptoms that a young person considering suicide may show and know how you can use your skills to help. Having an open dialogue with youth and young adults about suicide and knowing how to support a youth in a crisis can help reduce some of these risks.

A young person contemplating suicide may show no signs or show multiple signs. Be aware of the following warning signs:

Mental health [illustrative] (credit: PIXABAY)

1. Threatening to hurt or commit suicide;

2. Experiencing rage or anger, or seeking revenge;

3. Withdrawing from friends, family, or society;

4. Express feelings of hopelessness;

5. Talking, drawing, or writing about death, death, or suicide (including in school work, creative writing, and artwork);

6. Give away your most prized possessions.

Undiagnosed, untreated, or poorly treated depression, bullying, experiencing a traumatic event, and struggling with sexual orientation are just a few of the risk factors that can be associated with suicide among youth and young adults. However, we are a resilient people and there are protective factors that can contribute to our resilience and that we must continue to build.

These factors include: family and social support; healthy self-esteem; consistent routines; economic security; Good problem solving skills.

All of the above will help protect a youth from experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis or challenge. Support from family members or other caregivers in conjunction with the school community, synagogue, and youth movement can be crucial in helping prevent a young person considering suicide from moving forward.

As a Mental Health First Aid (and if you are not, we encourage you to train and be), it is another important protective factor! It can be an initial support resource for a young person in crisis and it is important to know how to handle the situation. Here are some tips from the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum:

1. Ask the young person directly if he or she is having suicidal thoughts or thinking about suicide. Appearing confident in the face of the suicide crisis can be comforting for the young person. It is important to ask the question without fear or expressing any negative judgment.

2. Always seek professional help when a young person shows suicidal thoughts. This may mean taking them to a hospital emergency department, a community mental health center, or a doctor’s office.

3. Express empathy for the young man and what he is going through. Give them a chance to talk about their feelings. Listen without judging and talk about some of the specific issues they face. The young person may feel very relieved when talking about their experiences.

4. Clearly state that suicidal thoughts are common and that help is available to discuss these thoughts. This can instill a sense of hope. Offer emotional support and hope for a more positive future in whatever way the young person accepts.

5. Don’t leave a young person who is going through a crisis alone. People rarely act on suicidal thoughts when other people are present.

Suicidal thoughts are serious and should always be followed up with professional help and resources. Your safety and the safety of the youth are the highest priority. After a crisis, you can also seek help to talk about your feelings and take care of yourself.

Talking about youth suicide is not easy, but you can #MakeTheDifference for a young person by:

Know the warning signs, have resources available, and be there for someone who is going through a crisis.

If you or someone you love is overwhelmed by emotions such as sadness, depression or anxiety, or you want to harm yourself or others, call 101. You can also contact the ERAN Suicide Hotline at 1201.

The writer is president and founder of Mental Health First Aid Israel.

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