Reading the media reports of the events that played out on April 20th, 1999, at Columbine High School makes for a harrowing experience in itself. As it slowly became clear to all the waiting, nervous parents what exactly was happening at their kids’ school, they all prayed for the life of their child. Except for Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan, a shy and depressed 17-year-old; she prayed “that mine would die before he hurt anyone else.”
An extreme example? Perhaps. But then isn’t all suicide extreme? Regardless of the circumstances, a teenager, no more than a child if we’re honest, who has come to the point where they believe the only answer is to end their life – a life hardly lived? That is nothing but extreme.
“Asking ‘why’ only makes us feel hopeless. Asking ‘how’ points the way forward, and shows us what we must do.” – Sue Klebold, author: “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy”
Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999, responsible for killing 15 people before they ended their own lives.
The month of May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” across the U.S., and Mental Health America, its organizers, are acknowledging the impact of COVID-19 upon the wellbeing of all with their downloadable “Tools 2 Thrive” toolkit.
Whatever the reason might be – anxiety, isolation, stress, or technology pressures – be under no illusion: All teenage suicides are a harrowing, confusing, and an ultimately life-changing experience for those left behind – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, and others. So many questions left completely unanswered.
Nothing is ever the same again, and everything that comes after is tinged with an unstoppable, sad remembrance.
Teenage Suicide: The Latest Statistics in the U.S. & Washington State (WA)
In October 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report that made for shocking headlines. According to their report, teenage suicide rates increased by a deeply concerning 56% from the period 2007 to 2017 – concerning for epidemiologists, mental health experts and U.S. parents alike. In real terms, the 2007 rate of 6.8 deaths per 100,000 adolescents and young people (between the ages of 10 and 24) had risen dramatically to around 10.8 deaths just 10 years later.
What was worse at the time of the report’s publication was this simple fact: all those epidemiologists, mental health experts, clinicians and other medical professionals had absolutely no answer as to why this rise had occurred.
The following important conclusions also remain unanswered:
- The rise in teenage suicides specifically had far outpaced that of the increase in suicides in general, and it continues to do so.
- Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, just behind accidental deaths.
More Concerning WA Teenage Suicide Statistics
According to preliminary data from WA’s Department of Health, 91 adolescents under the age of 19 sadly took their lives in 2018 here in Washington state. Many of these involved the use of a firearm. In particular, in Kings County, three-quarters of the suicides among children aged 10 to 14 involved firearms – in the vast majority of these cases, the firearm belonged to a family member, with the gun being left out and loaded.
Furthermore, around 10% of WA 10th-graders have attempted suicide over the last year. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of 10th-graders experiencing suicidal thoughts increased dramatically – by 35%.
Lastly, while teenage girls in WA attempted suicide more often, boys in the state were 4 times more likely to succeed in their attempt.
Teenage Suicide in WA: Risk Factors
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to what can constitute a suicide risk factor among teenagers, as you are dealing with the both the complexities of a growing and changing teenage mind, and the various emotions, hormones and academic pressures that these adolescents have to to deal with during this period of their lives.
Additionally, it’s not just one factor that will induce feelings of suicide – these factors tend to contribute collectively to a teenager’s state of mind and their potential risk of suicide. Through accumulated studies and research, the top reasons for teenage suicide include the following:
- Depression [see below], anxiety, and other mental health disorders
- Family history of suicide
- History of personal substance abuse
- Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma
- Bullying and/or social isolation
- Loss of a family member, eg. death or divorce
- Financial and/or job loss
- Relationship problems
- Starting or changing psychotropic* medications, commonly used for:
- Bipolar disorder, and
- Sleep disorders
*Psychotropic drugs: Any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions, and behavior. Some legal drugs, such as lithium for bipolar disorder, are psychotropic. Many illicit drugs, such as cocaine, are also psychotropic.
Vital Warning Signs of Possible Teenage Suicide
Meant for parents and teenagers alike, the following is a list of vital warning signs that can become evident prior to (and help you recognize if a teenager is contemplating) a possible suicide attempt:
- Social media: Talking/posting about suicide or death
- Searching online for methods of committing suicide
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Risk-taking/self-destructive behavior
- Isolating themselves
- Withdrawing from friends
- Suddenly calm or cheerful mood after a long period of depression
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Drop in academic performance
- Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits
- Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items sometimes used to commit suicide or self-harm
- Physical problems, eg. migraines, frequent stomach aches, etc.
Rising Depression in U.S. Teenagers
Untreated depression is a major factor in rising U.S. teenage suicide rates. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 20% of youngsters will experience some degree of teenage depression. Therefore, the prompt diagnosis and subsequent treatment for depression have to be a vital element of suicide prevention.
Experts cite increased academic and social pressures among the reasons for teenage depression. According to research, 61% of teens said they felt a lot of pressure to get good grades, while nearly 30% felt a lot of pressure to both look good and be socially accepted.
Available Treatments & Therapies for Teenagers with Depression
Unfortunately, there is no cure-all for depression – suicidal depression takes time to heal, and will involve a number of therapies working together. For those who are suicide survivors, these treatments are also essential.
- Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT):
This treatment is specifically designed to resolve depression through repairing and rebuilding broken relationships that can exist between parents and their teens.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
This helps teenagers identify their negative thinking and the false assumptions that thinking brings, making their life seemingly unbearable.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT):
This specialized therapy provides teenagers and adults alike with specific skills, eg. mindfulness and improved emotional regulation. These new skills become stronger with practice.
- Experiential Therapies:
Art, music, and equine therapy have been proven to help with the entire process of dealing with depression, giving teenagers positive ways to deal with their emotions.
Teenage suicide can be prevented.
National Suicide Prevention Helpline:1-800-273-8255