The number of young men between the ages of 15 to 24 taking their lives has tripled in the last 30 years. Young women do not commit suicide as much as young men but they do have twice as many attempts. It is thought young men are more successful because they use more violent means, such as shooting or hanging themselves, whereas young women tend to use less violent means, such as overdoses and these are not always successful.
This paints a bleak and sad picture of our troubled young people. It is a sad reflection on our society that we cannot give these young people hope in the future or a feeling of their value and their self-worth; that they should feel there is nothing worth living for.
For most of us, it is hard to imagine that we could ever feel like that when we were young. Even with the growing-up pains of adolescence, it was a time when we were bubbling over with energy and happiness and looking forward to a long, full life. All our dreams were in front of us and we had everything to look forward to.
Unfortunately, those young people who fall victims to depression do not feel that way. For many, they will be helped through by caring friends and family and will regain their youthful optimism and zest for life but for others there will be years of struggling with feelings of sadness, low self-esteem and a feeling of just existing, rather than living. For a small minority there will be no future, as they see no hope other than in death.
We may be able to help some of these young people if we can recognize some of the danger signs. These are some of the signs that may mean a young person is seriously contemplating suicide:
- Talking about suicide - this could include talking or writing about death or about life being pointless
- Talking about people who have committed suicide, particularly if they are famous people - this could make it seem glamorous and there could be risk of copy-cat suicide
- Giving away personal possessions or suddenly clearing things out and tidying up - getting things in order
- Careless behaviour, taking unnecessary risks
- Withdrawing from people and not wanting to mix in a normal way
- If there have been previous attempts at self harm or suicide
- A feeling of hopelessness and difficulty in sleeping can be signs of serious depression and indicators of suicide risk
- Saying goodbye in a meaningful way or making arrangements for after they have gone, such as telling you where to find important papers
- Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after they have been suffering from serious depression. This could mean they have made a decision and are resigned to their fate
The idea that if people talk about suicide they will not do it is a myth. We need to listen and take them seriously. This is one time we do not have to keep a confidence because their life could be at risk.
Teenage suicides are linked to serious depression in teenagers. If we know what to look for we have a better chance to intervene and to save young people from themselves. The consistent advice from health professionals is to take time listen to them and to take them seriously.