Teen Suicide – End The Stigma

Suicide is a topic most people are uncomfortable talking about. Unfortunately, we can not prevent suicide if we don’t talk about it. By expanding our knowledge around suicide and talking openly about it, we can reach out to our friends and family members who are at risk.

Youth, in particular, are at high risk for suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 12 to 24 in Alberta (Office of Alberta Medical Examiner, 2007). You can help break the silence and prevent suicide by becoming informed of the warning signs, knowing how to approach our friends, and discovering where to go for additional support or help.

Watch this teen suicide prevention video:
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One of the first steps in trying to prevent suicide is being aware of the warning signs. Warning signs are your friend’s way of asking for help because they may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help directly.

Warning Signs of Suicide

There are three areas we can identify when discussing warning signs: actions, emotions, and statements. First, your friend may start to suddenly act differently than he or she usually behaves. Watch for sudden changes in appetite, hygiene, mood, school performance, and socializing. They may also increase their use of drugs or alcohol, or you might notice that they started giving away their possessions. Emotionally, your friend may feel hopeless, helpless, angry, resentful, confused, and/or sad. Finally, all threats, jokes, and statements regarding suicide need to be taken seriously. A person who is thinking about suicide may not express all these warning signs, but it is important to know what to look for. Alone, these warning signs might not be relevant –we have all felt sad before—therefore, we need to recognize that these three areas (actions, emotions, and statements) together give us the clues to help save our friend.

Remember when we discussed how depression hurts? Learn about and other symptoms and causes of depression that can ultimately lead to suicide.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Friend Is Suicidal

If you feel your friend is expressing some of the mentioned warning signs then the next step is to approach him or her. Simply state the warning signs you feel they are expressing and then ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” For example, I may notice that my friend Charlie is missing a lot of school when he usually likes to come to school, skipping out on jam sessions to sleep, dumped his girlfriend for no reason, and gave away his favourite guitar. When I see Charlie I’m going to tell him that I’m worried about him, list the warning signs I see and ask if he is thinking about suicide. By asking the question, “are you thinking about suicide,” you are showing your friend that you care and you want to help him or her. You are not going to give him or her an idea or encourage suicide in any way. Your friend is asking for help by expressing the warning signs so don’t be afraid to ask the question. Your friend doesn’t want to die; they just want a way to end their pain and troubles. They may feel suicide is the only option, so it is important that we show them an alternative, less permanent, solution.

After you ask your friend if they are thinking about suicide, you want to help identify an adult they trust to support them. Suicide should not be faced alone, it is important that you talk to an adult you both trust. School counsellors, teachers, coaches, family members, community elders, and parents are some of the adults who would be willing to help you. Finally, never swear secrecy. Tell your friend that you want to help, that they don’t have to deal with this alone, and that you don’t want them to die.

Make sure you are informed on what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts.

By addressing suicide openly we can help prevent it. Remember to watch for the warning signs, ask if they are thinking about suicide, and then help them get additional support. By being aware, you could potentially save your friend’s life!

For more information and support check out these resources:
Distress Center Calgary—403-266-1605 or 1-800-SUICIDE (24-hour crisis line)
Mobile Response Team—403-266-1605 (9:00-11:00 crisis team)
Kids Help Phone—1-800-668-6868
Christie Mellan
Community Education Coordinator—CMHA Calgary