While teenage suicide is a big problem in society, it is preventable upon an early detecting and heeding to the warning signs. The reality is that a suicidal person does not really want to die; he/she wants to live without the psychological pain caused by the environment around him/her and the society. When examined closely, almost all teenage suicides take place within a particular environmental created by social forces of how people interact directly or indirectly and subsequently creates an atmosphere conducive for suicide.
Every incident of teenage suicide affects everyone in the society from those who knew the individual to those who did not. There is an overwhelming feeling of grief, confusion, and the sense of how people could the prevented the suicide. It must be recognized that teenagers experience more stress, confusion and other fears while growing than any other generation up and parents should work to ensure the environmental exposures are suitable based on the child’s maturity and needs.
According to Cadena (2007, Para. 2), “Environmental factors that impact the suicidal ideation of teenagers vary from individual to individual”. With this in mind, those responsible should become well versed in the emotional, psychological and social health of their children.
In the age of the internet, facebook, twitter, MySpace, you tube, and/or email and so much more, teenagers tend to react more quickly to data and communication aspects than they would have in earlier generations. When the pressure to react and the confusion on the appropriate action to take overwhelm the teenagers, they only think within the lines of suicide, as they are outcasts to the teenage society to which they belong.
For some teenagers, divorce, the formation of a new family with stepparents and stepsiblings, not performing well in school, being involved in failed emotional relationships with the opposite sex or even moving to a new community can prove very unsettling.
These accumulated events on the environment can intensify self-doubts and for some teens, suicide may appear to be a better solution to their problems and an outlet for stress. While the teenager may be able to endure the problems of stress and pressures caused by the environment and in that state display all the danger signs of a troubled and suicidal teenager there is normally a final trigger.
This final trigger is normally an event that the teenager finds that there is no point of exit from the environment and no place to exist peacefully in the society and hence suicide is the only option. The failure to recognize the sociological effects of events on the teenager’s environment be it at school, home or neighborhood by the authority figures and those close to the teenager leads the teenager to seek an exit from the environment and society.
There exist several cases of teenage suicide. For instance, Megan Taylor Meier (1992-2006) from Dardenne Prairie, Missouri committed suicide in her bedroom closet by hanging herself.
After opening a new account on MySpace, Meier received a message from Josh Evans, claimed to have been 16 years old. Within a short time, the two were strong associates over the internet regularly communicating through text messages despite the evident lack of meeting physically or conversing over the phone, a case that aroused Megan’s thoughts and emotions.
On October 15, 2006, the tone of the messages changed with Josh indicating that he did not desire to continue the friendship and thereafter messages of previous discussions between Josh and Megan appeared posted on bulletin and shared to other people. Two days later, after school Megan noticed that the friends of Josh incidentally started posting abusive language concerning her and it became a free for all against her.
In a natural response Megan was angry and lashed out at them on the internet, her mother noticed Megan’s state and while understanding the situation was angry with Megan for also using abusive language. This led to a confrontation between Megan and her mother and it ended with Megan expressing her disappointment that she expected her mother to be there for her and to take her side. This was the last time she would be seen alive as she immediately went and committed suicide.
Another case of suicide was that of Bill Clayton (1978-1995). Bill had been associated with the gays at a tender age of 17. As a result, he was severely assaulted, a case that arouse his anger only for him to opt for suicide after taking an overdose of drugs. At 14, Bill informed his parents that he was bisexual, though initially afraid of disclosing his sexuality. This incident led bill to depression. At some point Bill had to be hospitalized from the depression. After two years in counseling, Bill recovered and his mental health improved.
When a speaker on gays and lesbians was invited to give a speech, Billy volunteered by putting up posters little did he know that this would later cause problems. On April 6, 1995, Billy, Sam and his girlfriend were going home during the day when four people started hurling verbal abuses at them. To avoid confrontation the three took an alternative route only for the people to drive and block their path and beat them up while hurling insults in regards to his sexual orientation.
This incident caused a depressive relapse and Bill became suicidal and had to be readmitted to hospital. Bill could only feel safe at home, as one of the four people who attacked them was a senior student in the same school. As a patient, he received news from his friend about a mugging done to his friend, also rumored to be a gay thus arousing much fear of his own security. 10 days later, he was discharged came home and there after took an overdose that killed him.
Prior to hospitalization, he had indicated to his mother that he was tired of just coping and the knowledge that he or his friends could be attacked at anytime and that he was facing a future of a lifetime filled with hate and assault at anytime. In the words of his mother Clayton (1996, Para. 34), “The only place he felt safe was at home. The desperate young Bill finally committed suicide.
The 13-year old Ryan Patrick Halligan (1989-2003) too provides a real illustration of a teen suicidal case. Ryan was repeatedly sent instant messages school classmates threatening and accusing him of being gay. Within the period 1999-2000, Ryan suffered maltreatment and insults by his fellow students at the school, based on his inability to engage in games and had knowledge mayhem.
Further, his passion for arts and crafts coupled with his inability to weep even after the harassments drew the students into the inference that Ryan was actually a gay. Later on, Ryan started spending more time on online and specifically on AIM among others. It was on AIM that the students from the school started insulting and bullying him online through the chat and message boards by among other things calling him gay.
During this time, Ryan experienced a very strong emotional imbalance from Ashley, a popular girl who called him a loser. Ashley disclosed that her interest in him was to acquire personal information a fact she proved when their confidential relations appeared on message boards for his classmates to discomfit and debase him. At around the same time, Ryan began online conversations with a stranger about his suicide plans.
However, his further casually dismissed the matter by commenting lightly on it without further consideration. Ryan later committed suicide. In the words of his father, Halligan (2006, Para. 23) says, “We have no doubt that bullying and cyber bullying were significant environmental factors that triggered Ryan’s depression.”
Suicide among teens often occurs following a stressful life event such as a perceived failure at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, and a divorce, or a major family conflict. Other potential causes include changes in life events such as the death of a family member or friend, especially by suicide, separation or divorce, loss of an important relationship, including a pet, public humiliation or failure, serious physical illness or getting in trouble with the law can trigger suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.
These stressful events have a profound emotional impact on the teenager and while the rest of society may be able to move due to the limited knowledge and understanding, they cannot visualize the future or expect it to get better. This situation is further compounded by the authority figures such as parents and teachers who do not explain the reasons why some events occur and how things will improve.
According to Cadena (2007), “…Teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears while growing up” (Para.4). However, suicide does not happen overnight, there are behavioral signs that would be displayed by the teenager over a period that clearly depict that there is a problem.
These signs are not a guarantee of a suicidal attempt but they point to a potential problem. Some of these signs of suicidal tendencies include dramatic change in personality, becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression, quality of his/her schoolwork going down and always appearing bored.
He/she has trouble concentrating, acting like a rebel in an unexplained and severe way, accident proneness, drug and alcohol abuse, violence towards self, others and animals, dangerous or risky behavior, loss of appetite ,sudden alienation from family and friends, lack of sleep or excessive sleeping, giving away valued possessions and writing of letters, notes, poems with suicidal contents. Suicidal teens may also give verbal indicators such as talking about suicide or death in general.
Talk about “going away”, talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty, I will not be a burden to you much longer, nothing matters, I feel so alone and want to die. It is not worth persevering with this stuff. “The teenager thinking of suicide may even joke about it and how it may be an interesting experience” (Gibelman, 2005, Para. 4).
It is important to be aware of the kind of things your teenager says as they could be looking for confirmation that they are valued and in search of positive confirmation. The comments aim at seeking attention from others and open up dialogue and discussion on the matter of concern.
According to Gibelman (2005, Para. 2), “Social workers are highly skilled in crisis intervention and can help you to determine how real a suicide threat is”. The social worker being a trained professional would be able to advice you on the most suitable immediate action based on the present circumstances as evaluated. Social workers would also be able to point out and device mechanisms for reaching out to at-risk teens educating the community about suicide warning signs and thereby prevent suicides.
Social workers sometimes encounter frustrated parents who do not know how to deal with their struggling teen because in most cases there is no coordinated system designed to take care of the troubled teenager and the parent. In some cases, parents and teenagers do not seek the appropriate help and assistance, they instead settle for what is available that they can afford.
When teenage crises emerge, many parents scramble seeking information and help but in most cases the help turns out to be incomplete and of little use something that can easily be addressed by the social workers. Social workers can be of great help by providing information on important warning signs of teenagers who may be a downward emotional and psychological spiral, so that emergency intervention can take place.
However, emergency interventions only help stabilize the situation when combined with continued counseling for both the teenager and family in order for them to understand what is going on and to provide family support. Social workers can help parents seek help to change counterproductive family dynamics and parenting strategies as well as teaching problem-solving skills.
Social workers can also educate about needed programs and services about legal assistance from educational advocates who are specially trained to pursue funding and services from local school districts; “The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) views the current high rate of child and adolescent suicide as a national tragedy” (NASW, 2003, Para. 1).
Understandably, parents of struggling teens are often preoccupied with immediate crises. When their efforts to help their child also fail to protect the teen frustration, anger, and despair grow.
Social workers can help parents manage these feelings by teaching them how to cope. While it is important to be observant of the teenager’s behavior for signs of problems, it is also critical to recognize that skilled and professional help may be of greater help. Recognizing that everyday events have a significant effect on our children will also play a crucial role in keeping parents and guardians mindful of the environment at home and even in the neighborhoods to ensure that, their children can grow up safe and socially healthy.
Cadena, C. (2007). Teen Suicide and the Impact of the Environment. Key Areas of Focus For Parents. Retrieved 26 July 2011. From http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/155854/teen_suicide_and_the_impact_of_the.html?cat=25
Clayton, G. (1996). Portrait of a Son’s Suicide Bill’s Story (1996-2010). Retrieved 26 July 2011. From http://www.youth-guard.org/gabi/Bills_Story.html
Gibelman, M. (2005). Social workers Help .Suicide Prevention: How social workers Help. http://www.helpstartshere.org/mind-and-spirit/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention-how-social-workers-help.html
Halligan, J. (2006). Ryan’s Story Ryan’s Story Presentation. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
NASW. (2003). Social Work Speaks. Retrieved26 July 2011. From http://www.helpstartshere.org/mind-and-spirit/suicide-prevention/tips-on-teen-suicide.html