Suicide is a major public health problem in the United States, affecting adults and young people alike. According to the most recent data, suicide is the ninth-leading cause of death in Tennessee, claiming over 1,100 lives per year and is the second-leading cause of death among youth between ages 10-14 in Tennessee. Suicide was the third-leading cause of death for children and young adults between the ages of 15-24 in 2017. That year 142 children and young adults took their own lives. Nationally, suicide rates among youth ages 15-24, have increased more than 200% over the past fifty years.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in Tennessee and across the nation. Here are two critical points to keep in mind and tell others about:
1. If parents notice any sign that their child may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or considering suicide, the next step is to talk to their child. Experts say the best path is to bring the subject into the open. Don’t be afraid of asking direct questions and having frank discussions. Parents can also receive help from a number of resources-- more on that below.
2. No matter how troubled a child is, there is hope. When kids are depressed, they have a tough time believing their outlook can improve. But with help from professionals, struggling kids can recover. Expert treatment can have a dramatic impact on the lives of children and youth who are struggling and help them get back on track to a brighter future.
Recognizing the Warning Signs
The first step in helping your child is to look for warning signs. These may include:
· Talking about suicide—for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn't been born”
· Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
· Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
· Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
· Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
· Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
· Changing eating and/or sleeping patterns
· Creating poems, essays or drawings that refer to death
· Experiencing a recent severe loss (especially in a relationship), or the threat of a significant loss
· Having a severe drop in school performance
· Giving away prized possessions
· Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
Children/Youth Suicides and Guns
Many children attempt suicide on impulse and there’s no second chance with a gun. In states where there are more guns, more people commit suicide. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide is 4 to 10 times higher in homes with guns than in those without them. If the gun is a handgun or is stored loaded or unlocked, the risk of suicide is even higher.
It’s best to not have any guns in home where children or teenagers live. If there is a gun:
· Keep it unloaded and locked up or install a trigger lock. Store the bullets in a different place that is also locked.
· Do not let your child have access to the places where guns and bullets are stored.
· If your child becomes depressed or has severe mood swings, give the gun to a trusted adult outside of your home for safe keeping.
Suicide attempts involving prescription medications and other drugs have risen dramatically in the past few years according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Medications are by far the most common method of nonfatal suicide attempts for all ages and both sexes. Teens who attempt suicide use medications more often than any other method.
Here are some ways to keep your children safe:
· Do not keep large quantities of medications on hand—especially narcotics (opioids).
· Consider locking up ALL medications.
· Dispose of medications that are outdated or that you no longer need. Every county in
Tennessee has a safe place to dispose of medications. Visit www.countitlockitdropit.org for locations.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text TN to 741741 to connect to the Crisis Text Line and a trained counselor.
The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services crisis line can also help. That 24/7 hotline number is 855-CRISIS-1.