Editors Note: This article is written by BCC Founder and Counselor Dr. Ron Allchin as part of our series on “Helping Teens.” In this series, our counselors are unpacking how we can all care for teens who are facing different types of trouble.
Incidences of teen suicide are on the increase in many countries around the world. Teen suicide in the United States is not an exception to this.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’ve also reported significant increases in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts during the summer of 2020 and winter of 2021.
While many blame Covid restrictions, lockdowns, virtual education, and the elimination of normal social activities, no one factor can be connected to the increase.
Perhaps there is hopelessness at this time in history where teens see “no way out” of some present struggles of our society, culture, and our world.
Many have never learned the coping skills necessary to deal with the issues they face. Others struggle with the concepts of a God who would allow such things to happen, allowing their world to turn upside-down.
Knowing the Signs
We all need to be alert, connected, and sensitive to teenagers when they evidence any unusual activities and/or emotional changes. The most heart-breaking words any person could ever say about a friend who tried, or succeeded, in taking his own life is, “If only I had known the signs.”
Sometimes these signs are evident, and recognizing the signs can be a good reason to approach the hurting teen with a compassionate heart, knowing their struggle could be life-threatening.
Most suicide attempts do not come without warning, but sometimes the signs are hidden or less evident. It is those times that catch us by surprise.
What are the immediate danger signs?
1. Marked loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
2. Preoccupation with death
3. Veiled threats such as “You’ll be sorry you treated me this way!”
4. Talk of suicide plans or methods (even if purportedly about a third person)
5. Marked increase in reckless drug or alcohol abuse
6. Sudden inattention to personal hygiene
7. Emotional shock leading to emotional upset, such as the discovery of adoption
8. Severe sleep disorders
9. Sudden mood elevation following depression
10. Withdrawal from counseling
11. Giving away of significant possessions
12. Getting affairs in order, i.e. returning borrowed items, care for pets, etc.
12. Questions concerning the afterlife, notes of finality in conversation
13. Discussion of suicide plans
14. Evidence of implementing suicide plans
What are the high-risk indicators that are also present?
1. History of drug and/or alcohol use
2. Victims of physical, sexual, or verbal abuse
3. Being investigated for criminal charges
4. History of depression or other “mental health” issues
5. Those who have previously attempted suicide
6. A suicide survivor (when someone close has committed suicide)
7. People who have perfectionist personalities
8. Those experiencing recent significant loss through death, divorce, or break-up
9. Childhood history of frequent moves
10. Firstborn in families
(Taken from Teen Suicide Prevention Taskforce)
Ways to Help
Trust God to use you as His instrument of HOPE to someone who needs help now. Just like the Good Samaritan, God can use even an unlikely person to meet the needs of the suicidal teen.
Be There for Them
If you recognize any of the signs, approach the teen in humility and gentleness, and encourage them to talk to you. Just really listen (Jas 1:19,20). Be compassionate; consider the depth of their pain and suffering (Lam 3:22-24).
Having a teen talk about their plans doesn’t encourage them to follow through with those plans. Your interest in them and their pain will actually help them process a life-saving path.
Remember, suicide is not so much about wanting to die as it is not knowing how to live with the problem.
Some may be struggling with sin issues in their life and may have never experienced the truth of the Gospel.
Living with a fresh understanding of sins forgiven and finding the path of progressive sanctification can bring immediate relief and joy. Hope to live revives when a suicidal person realizes they no longer have to follow their own understanding, but can now trust in the Lord to direct their path (Pro 3:5-6).
You promise to walk with them through whatever struggle they face, with the assurance that there is a way to escape promised in 1 Cor 10:13. Lead them through a practical plan of action to solve what seems unsolvable to them at the time. Introducing new solutions to the problem brings hope!
Do not attempt to manipulate through shame or guilt. Remember they are already hurting emotionally and spiritually. The suicidal teen feels worse with that approach and the pain and confusion of what they are thinking to do are compounded.
Reveal Faulty Thought Patterns and Beliefs
They need help with long-term solutions, not just temporary ones. Help them to identify their perceived unmet needs. Ask them to fill in the blank: Life without _____ is not worth living because _______. Help to reason and to think through the issues from God’s perspective.
Help them to uncover the lies that bring them to believe that ending life is better than living life. Since it is always the truth that sets us free, help them to replace unbiblical thought patterns with the truth. Phil 4:8 gives 8 ways to think well that can help him come to a God-honoring and life-saving conclusion.
It is our desire that this information will help you think through some first steps in helping the suicidal teen, and that it might motivate you to dig deeper into this topic to be better equipped with life-saving counsel.
Always keep in mind that there are others in the church and community who can also provide ongoing encouragement and support. Don’t be reluctant to call on others for help. Good discipleship should be churchwide.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255, or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
What wonderful insight and advice! As a high school guidance counselor, I value the position God has me in to serve as His instrument of Hope! Thank you!!