- In a recent study on the long-term impact of child
abuse, adult women who said they were physically or
emotionally abused as children were more likely to
have mental problems, suffer from depression and to
have attempted suicide.(1)
- Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for
all persons regardless of age, sex or race; the third
leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to
24; and the fourth leading cause of death for persons
between the ages of 10 and 14.(2)
It is important to take the subject of suicide seriously.
It doesn't seem right that a teen-ager - who has lived for
such a short time - would choose to die. But adolescents who
can't get over their depression sometimes do kill themselves.
Boys commit suicide more often than girls, but no one is
immune. In one recent survey of high school students, 60
percent said they had thought about killing themselves. About
9 percent said they had tried at least once.
Why has the youth suicide rate gone so high in recent
- It's easier to get the tools for suicide (Boys often
use firearms to kill themselves; girls usually use
- the pressures of modern life are greater;
- competition for good grades and college admission is
- there's more violence in the newspapers and on
Lack of parental interest may be another problem. Many
children grow up in divorced households; for others, both of
their parents work and their families spend limited time
together. According to one study 90 percent of suicidal
teen-agers believed their families did not understand them.
(However, this is such a common teen-age complaint that other
factors are playing a role, too.) Young people also reported
that when they tried to tell their parents about their
feelings of unhappiness or failure, their mother and father
denied or ignored their point of view.
If your teen-ager has been depressed, you should look
closely for signs that he or she might be thinking of
- Has his personality changed dramatically?
- Is he having trouble with a girlfriend (or, for
girls, with a boyfriend)? Or is he having trouble
getting along with other friends or with parents? Has
he withdrawn from people he used to feel close to?
- Is the quality of his schoolwork going down? Has he
failed to live up to his own or someone else's
standards (when it comes to school grades, for
- Does he always seem bored, and is he having trouble
- Is he acting like a rebel in an unexplained and
- Is she pregnant and finding it hard to cope with this
major life change?
- Has he run away from home?
- Is your teen-aager abusing drugs and/or alcohol?
- Is she complaining of headaches, stomachaches, etc.,
that may or may not be real?
- Have his eating or sleeping habits changed?
- Has his or her appearance changed for the worse?
- Is he giving away some of his most prized
- Is he writing notes or poems about death?
- Does he talk about suicide, even jokingly? Has he
said things such as, "That's the last
straw," "I can't take it anymore," or
"Nobody cares about me?" (Threatening to
kill oneself precedes four out of five suicidal
- Has he tried to commit suicide before?
If you suspect that your teen-ager might be thinking about
suicide, do not remain silent. Suicide is preventable,
but you must act quickly.
- Ask your teen-ager about it. Don't be afraid to say
the word "suicide." Getting the word out in
the open may help your teen-ager think someone has
heard his cries for help.
- Reassure him that you love him. Remind him that no
matter how awful his problems seem, they can be
worked out, and you are willing to help.
- Ask her to talk about her feelings. Listen carefully.
Do not dismiss her problems or get angry at her.
- Remove all lethal weapons from your home, including
guns, pills, kitchen utensils and ropes.
- Seek professional help. Ask your teen-ager's
pediatrician to guide you. A variety of outpatient
and hospital-based treatment programs are available.
(1) Mullen, P.E., et. al., "The Long-term
Impact of the Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Abuse of
Children: A Community Study," Child Abuse &
Neglect, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 7-21, 1996 (Pergamon)
(2) Friday, J.C., Ph.D., "The
Psychological Impact of Violence in Underserved
Communities," Journal of Health Care for the Poor and
Underserved, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1995, pp. 403-409.