Preventing Teen Suicide

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Mr. Bedinghaus discusses his experiences with teen suicide.

Haylyn Baker, Reporter

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 24. Number one is accidental deaths, and number two is homicides. Why is this important? Teen suicide is when a teenager causes his or her own death on purpose. Before trying to take their own life, a teen may have thoughts of wanting to die. This is called suicidal ideation. They could also have suicidal behavior. Suicidal behavior is when a teen is focused on doing things that could cause their own death. How do you recognize the warning signs when someone is feeling this way? How do you get them help? 

Teenage years can be full of stress and change. These issues could be factors of why a teenager could be wanting to attempt to take their own life. If a teen is going through changes in their family (such as divorcing parents, having a brother/ sister move out, or moving to a new town/ school), if there are changes in friendships, problems at school, or any other losses, check up on your friend even though they aren’t showing that they’re upset. 

Experts recommend talking with youth about teen suicide. According to national statistics, we lose more than 2,000 children and teens per year to suicide. “A conversation about depression or suicide is going to be difficult, but you can have it without putting a young person at risk and it can be very helpful,” says John Ackerman, PhD, clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Ackerman continues, “For the young person, having this discussion can be incredibly relieving.  It is a powerful opportunity to understand that being emotionally open, especially about thoughts of suicide, can lead to healing and connection rather than shame and isolation.” According to suicide prevention experts, asking a teen directly about suicidal thoughts is usually the best thing a parent can do to help their child open up about their emotions. 

Sometimes you may not always recognize the warning signs, but some things to look out for are: changes in sleeping habits, loss of interest in things they once loved, isolating themselves from friends and family, drug abuse, unnecessary risk-taking, obsession with death or dying, or more physical complaints often linked to emotional distress, such as stomachaches, headaches, and extreme tiredness, loss of interest in school or doing schoolwork, feeling bored all the time, problems focusing, or lack of response to praise. More warning signs could include things someone says, this could be anything from; “I want to kill myself,” giving verbal hints such as “if anything happens to me I want you to know/ have..,” giving or throwing away their favorite belongings, becomes suddenly cheerful, or writing one or more suicide note. 

There are a lot of ways to get help for someone going through suicidal thoughts or behavior. A teen can get treatment depending on their age, health, or symptoms. Treatment starts with a detailed evaluation of events in your teen’s life during the two to three days before the suicidal behaviors. Treatment may include: Individual therapy, family therapy where parents play a vital role in treatment, or an extended hospital stay, if needed, which gives the teen a supervised and safe environment. 

For adults, you can play a bigger part of helping your teen through suicide as well. Keeping medicines away from your teen, getting him or her help for substance abuse problems, listening to your teen and staying connected, becoming informed of how serious this topic is, and knowing the warning signs of depression/ suicide will help.  If you’re a friend and you’ve noticed the warning signs, you should take your friend’s behavior and talk of suicide seriously, encourage them to seek expert help and offer to go with them, if needed, or talk right away with an adult you trust about your friend. 

I spoke to some adults in our school and asked them some questions along with their opinions and thoughts towards teen suicide. Hillcrest’s freshman counselor, Ty Heinrichs was asked, about how often do you think a student has talked to you about suicide? Heinrichs stated, “Honestly, over the years, very few. I think students are more likely to talk to their friends about the situation than adults at first. Eventually, it’ll come to me, and I’ll have that conversation with them. But for them to initiate it, very few. I’ve been a counselor for 15 years and it has been maybe one person.” If Heinrichs could say one thing to people who are suicidal, it would be, “Reach out, find help. It’s curable. It’s something we can get you help for. There is a way out, help is there. So definitely reach out, find help, be willing to talk to somebody.” If a teen told Heinrichs they are suicidal he said, “I would talk to them and just ask them some questions; Do they have a plan or something they’re planning on doing? Have they thought it through? If they have I would seek giving that person help. I wouldn’t let them leave. I would stay with them until I was able to get them help.”

Another leader in Hillcrest is Mr. Bedinghaus, the physics and engineering teacher. Bedinghaus has experienced the loss of someone from suicide. When asked, ‘About how many times do you think a student has talked to you about suicide?’ He answered, “Many times for sure. I couldn’t give you an exact number, but there’s been several kids every year that have talked about it or talked about how they’ve thought about it in the past for sure.” Bedinghaus also stated that he hears suicide jokes made around him at least once a month. “They’re just insinuating suicide jokes such as ‘I want to kill myself,’ and laughing afterwards.” Bedinghaus then discussed coping personally with suicide by saying, “I actually lost a really good friend in 2008 to suicide. Personally, I was okay, but speaking with other friends, it was really devastating. It’s one of those things where there’s not just one right answer, there’s not one right way to cope with it. There’s obviously healthy ways and unhealthy ways, and I think it’s every person’s past that goes into their coping mechanism.” 

The last person I interviewed is Hillcrest’s 10-12 grade counselor, Ms. Hostler. She’s been working as a counselor for 18 years, and she thinks around 50 kids have talked to her about suicide. Ms. Hostler says she hasn’t personally experienced the loss of someone to suicide, but she has had students who have experienced it. “It is very, very difficult. Especially for the age of the students that I work with. It is a very difficult thing for them to wrap their heads around. There’s lots of questions, lot’s of anger sometimes, and sadness of course initially. But a whole lot of emotions that follow. It’s difficult, and I get it, because someone that young, why would they choose to take that route?” 

If Ms. Hostler could say one thing to people who are suicidal, it would be to get help and absolutely reach out and talk to somebody, a trusted adult perferbally. Ms. Hostler also added, “With so many students on LAUNCH right now because of Covid, we sometimes get emails and it is difficult because we can’t get our hands on them here, they’re not here. So we have to call home. We have to hope we get a parent in place as quickly as we can because if we get notifications, then we have to act as quickly as we can and get someone there as quickly as we can.”