Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)"

The title is a joking reference to a song from the black comedy Heathers, but the topic is serious. Literally, it is deadly serious.

In the short span of a few weeks, there have been six gay teen suicides across the country:
  • Tyler Clementi, 18, Rutgers University freshman, violinist
  • Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minnesota freshman, cello player
  • Asher Brown, 13, Houston, Texas eighth-grader and straight A student
  • Raymond Chase, 19, Johnson & Wales University sophomore, culinary student
  • Billy Lucas, 15, Greensburg, Indiana sophomore, animal lover
  • Seth Walsh, 13, Fresno, California middle school student, artist and fashion aficionado
LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey.

Adolescence is hard enough, but then gay youth have the additional stressors of more limited social and societal options due to discrimination, as well as less access to information and support, and an increased incidence of bullying and harassment.

In the wake of these high-profile deaths, though, many people have taken steps to provide additional support to prevent teen suicide, in addition to already existing resources.
  • Noted columnist Dan Savage created his "It Gets Better" project to send the message that suicide is not the way to go and to show that gay folks can have a good and positive future ahead of themselves, even if they may not see that at the moment. Noted celebrities who have participated include Tim Gunn, Sarah Silverman, Ashley Tisdale, Jewel, Eve, Perez Hilton, and Chris Colfer.
  • The Trevor Project (provides a national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth)
  • The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program
  • National Suicide & Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide is a preventable tragedy, and we must work to raise awareness of the plight of, and options for, suicidal youth. Over a decade ago, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher called suicide a "public health crisis," and sadly, it still is.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Ideation (thinking, talking, or wishing about suicide or obsessing over death)
  • Substance use or abuse (increased use or change in substance)
  • Puposelessness (no sense of purpose or belonging)
  • Anger
  • Trapped (feeling like there is no way out)
  • Hopelessness (there is nothing to live for, no hope or optimism)
  • Withdrawal (from family, friends, work, school, activities, hobbies)
  • Anxiety (restlessness, irritability, agitation)
  • Recklessness (high risk-taking behavior)
  • Mood disturbance (dramatic changes in mood, including sudden happiness or calmness, as well as)

If You See the Warning Signs of Suicide...

Begin a dialogue by asking questions. Suicidal thoughts are common with depressive illnesses and your willingness to talk about it in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way can be the help a person needs to seeking professional help. Questions okay to ask:

  • "Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide?"
  • "Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?"
  • "Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?"
  • "Have you thought about what method you would use?"
Remember, always take thoughts of or plans for suicide seriously.

Never keep a plan for suicide a secret. It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence than it is to go to a funeral. And most of the time they will come back and thank you for saving their life.

Don't try to minimize problems or shame a person into changing their mind. Trying to convince a person suffering that "it's not that bad" or that "you have everything to live for" may only increase feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Reassure them that help is available, that depression is treatable, and that suicidal feelings are temporary. Life can - and does - get better!

If you feel the person isn't in immediate danger, acknowledge the pain as legitimate and offer to work together to get help. Help find a doctor or a mental health professional, participate in making the first phone call, or go along to the first appointment. If you need to, call 911 to get help.