By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Recognizing and dealing with a suicidal teen can be tricky. NorthCare Program Manager Heather Askew helps Oklahoma City schools when teens are having suicidal thoughts or commit suicide.
Parents, teachers and students need to know how to recognize the signs. Askew said these are some of them:
• Obvious statements to friends, peers or on social media sites about wanting to harm themselves.
• Increased agitation.
• Isolating themselves from friends and family.
• Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
• Expressing hopelessness.
• Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge.
• Dramatic mood changes.
• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
• Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
One or more of these signs can indicate a person considering suicide. Askew said the most important thing you can do is probably the most obvious — come right out and ask.
“Don’t be afraid to ask really direct questions,” Askew said. She encouraged parents to not beat around the bush and just ask their kids if they are having suicidal thoughts. Much like sex, drugs or alcohol, suicide is a conversation parents should be having with their kids as they enter adolescence. Askew said one of the biggest myths about suicide is that mentioning it can plant that idea in someone’s mind.
Having these conversations may need to start happening sooner than many people believe.
Askew said that in the Oklahoma City metro area, some of the recent suicides have involved students in fifth grade.
“We are seeing a younger trending in the metro area,” Askew said. “Normally you would begin talking to kids about drugs and alcohol in middle school but suicide prevention may need to start earlier than we thought.”
If you determine a teen is suicidal, one of the first things you should do is remove weapons, pills or anything else they could use to harm themselves.
Teens are impulsive and often shortsighted, so it is important to put steps between them and completing a suicide, Askew said.
“When means are readily available, that’s when you have a dangerous situation with impulsive adolescents,” Askew said.
What can cause a teen to have suicidal thoughts? Askew said there are many different risk factors. One of the major ones is the evolution of bullying. Askew said with Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, bullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Stresses such as family conflict, divorce, physical trauma or sexual trauma, can also impact their ability to cope.
But one of the biggest risk factors can be knowing someone who has attempted or completed suicide. This can cause students who feel invisible or overlooked to contemplate if suicide would give them a different status.
“That is a hard way to think about it but that is what experts see,” Askew said.
Communities need to be careful about how they react to the suicide and not glorify it.
“It is this middle ground of not glorifying it or going overboard with it but acknowledging that it affects students,” Askew said.
She encouraged schools to have a policy for tragic student deaths and treat them all in a similar way.
Anyone who is considering suicide or anyone who is concerned about someone they know can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.