Teen suicide makes headlines. Last month, a 10-year-old Ohio girl named Hailey Petee hanged herself after being the target of relentless bullying. If you’re shocked to read about someone so young taking their own life, then you haven’t been keeping up with current events. Last year, a 15-year-old girl named Felicia Garcia jumped in front of a train. Jarrod Nickell, 18, killed himself behind his family’s home. Joel Morales, 12, hanged himself. Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge in 2010. These young people were all the targets of bullying. But there are many more kids who were desperate enough to take their own lives, with myriad variables driving their desperation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, suicide is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. among 10-24 year olds.
In many cases, the parents of teens who commit suicide were aware that there were problems and tried desperately to make things better for their kids. They talked to school officials, changed their childrens’ schools, even moved the entire family to new towns or states. After Hailey Petee’s death, her mother told a local news station that much of the bullying that had driven Hailey to suicide took place on the school bus. “I had her transfer to a different bus and I wouldn’t let her go anywhere in town unless it was to her neighbor’s…or to her friends house,” her mother said. Jarrod Nickell’s family moved from New York to Michigan “in search of a ‘fresh start’,” reported Michigan Live, which also reported that Jarrod’s mother “alerted the school and administrators met with all the boys… Since Jarrod’s death, however, his classmates and friends have told her the meeting sparked a new series of insults—calling Jarrod a ‘mamma’s boy’ and similar name-calling because she intervened.”
Read Related: Suicide: When & Why You Should Talk About It
IT’S NOT JUST BULLYING
It’s not just bullying that drives teenagers to a depression so severe that they commit suicide.
There are many factors that cause depression in teens, and it’s a condition that can go undiagnosed. An adolescent who is irritable or moody, who sleeps in or gets bad grades (all potential symptoms of depression, according to KidsHealth) may just appear to be a “typical teenager,” even to their concerned families. And indeed he may be just that. But factors like genetics, Seasonal Affective Disorder, stress, sexuality, and feelings of isolation can contribute to depression and turn the “typical teen” into a young man or woman who tries—and may succeed in—committing suicide.
Because depression in teens can go unrecognized, it also goes untreated, even when there has been a prior suicide attempt. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, every year “approximately 2 million U.S. adolescents attempt suicide, and almost 700,000 receive medical attention for their attempt.” That’s a big gap, especially since NAMI calls a prior attempt at suicide an “important risk factor.”
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
It’s terribly sad reading not just about young people who felt driven to take their own lives, but about their families who tried so hard to stop it from happening. What can parents do to protect their own children?
For one thing, they can familiarize themselves with the warning signs of suicide. Websites of such resources such as NAMI, Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), It Gets Better (for LGBT youth), and The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) can help parents identify two types of red flags, like Suicidal Behavior such as (according to NAMI) “Change in eating and sleeping habits… Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities… [and] Not tolerating praise or rewards” as well as Risk Factors like “Family history of suicide” and “Co-occurring mental and alcohol or substance abuse disorders.”
If parents are concerned about their children, they should seek professional help; waiting to see what happens or hoping that the problem goes away can have tragic consequences. Teens often can’t see far enough into the future to know that there is the possibility of beating depression and overcoming unhappy circumstances. It’s up to parents to do everything they can to help show their children that they have the power to change things, and that their lives are precious and worth fighting for.