(by Dawson McAllister)
Why, in America, in a culture where we have so much available to us, do people seek to take their own life? As I talk to teens and young adults on the radio I often hear a similar story of trying to escape feelings of rejection, worthlessness, pain, loss, shame, guilt, etc. They have no hope that things will get better and they want out. In a study conducted by Nemours Foundation for TeensHealth.org most teenagers interviewed after making a suicide attempt say they did it because they were trying to escape from a situation that seemed impossible or because they wanted relief from really bad thoughts or feelings.
Compound this need to escape and the loss of hope, with a society that offers instant gratification and quick fixes to everything, and I believe teens and young adults tend to look for the fastest way out of a problem and unfortunately the solution they often turn to is suicide. My heart breaks as I talk to so many teens and young adults who believe dying would be easier than living with the pain they are feeling.
Teen suicide is a very real problem in the United States. In fact, it is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-24.
So what can adults and parents do to help change the tide? Put simply…LOVE then listen. LOVE then ask questions. LOVE then be involved. LOVE then be alert. LOVE then trust your gut. LOVE then seek professional help. LOVE. (For those who have lost a child to suicide, I know that sometimes even this won’t be enough. I am truly sorry for your loss.)
As parents, we may be the last to know if our child is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Kids often work hardest to hide their true feelings from their parents. That is why it is important to have other adults involved in your child’s life…youth pastors, teachers, coaches, mentors, family friends. So this message is for all adults because investing our time and energy into the lives of teens and young adults makes all the difference.
The single most important aspect of averting suicide is being involved in someone’s life and watching for warning signs. Most suicidal individuals give definite warnings of their suicidal intentions. In fact, of all the people who have committed suicide, 80% have given some kind of warning. Below is a list of warning signs. Pay attention.
Suicide Prevention – Signs to watch for
A suicidal person may:
- Talk about suicide, death, and/or having no reason to live
- Withdraw from friends or social activities
- Experience drastic changes in behavior
- Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Give away prized possessions
- Lose interest in their personal appearance
- Express a deep sense of hopelessness
- Increase in drug or alcohol use
- A deep sense of serenity, or being at peace
- Complain about being a bad person or feeling rotten inside
** It is also important to note that many of the suicide warning signs are also indications of depression.
They may even be so desperate they might say something like…
- If I killed myself, then people would be sorry
- If I wasn’t around no one would miss me
- All of my problems will end soon
- I won’t be a problem for you much longer
- Nothing matters; it’s no use
- I won’t see you again
So how can you respond to someone who is exhibiting these warning signs?
First and foremost – take them seriously! Never dismiss it as bluffing or as a way to get attention.
- Get involved. Be available. Show interest and support
- Ask directly if he/she is thinking about suicide
- Don’t be afraid to talk with them about suicide. Talking about it does not make it worse. It makes it better.
- Ask if they have a plan. If so, take them seriously and move quickly to get help. Remove anything that would help them carry out their plan guns, drugs, alcohol, knives, etc.
- Be willing to listen without judgment.
- Don’t lecture
- Don’t act shocked, disappointed or afraid
- Offer hope – help them realize their pain is temporary and that they are valued by you
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Get support.
- Create a safety plan together for what to do when they experience these feelings. Tell them about TheHopeLine® and 24/7 chat.
- Show them that alternatives are available
If you’ve listened to my show you’ve likely heard me say…”Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I never say that lightly. I want the caller to understand that things can turn around in their lives and that they may miss out on a great future that God has in store for them.
Nicole wrote to me and said her sister saved her when she felt suicidal: Because of her, I am still here. If you know anyone who you think may have depression or suicidal thoughts ask him or her if everything is okay and comfort them.
Heather shared that being told she was loved made all the difference: I told [my friend] what was going on and he just kept telling me that he cared that it wasn’t the right thing for me, that I had so much more to do with my life. But the thing that helped me was that he said he loved me. I had felt so alone and no one had told me that in a while not even my mom.
It is also critical to assure your loved one that you will stick around…that you are willing to help them no matter what it takes.
Amberly agrees: Sometimes all you need is to be loved and know someone is there to catch you when you are about to fall.
Finally, I’d like to issue a call for all of us to pray. We must pray that this generation chooses LIFE, both physical life and eternal life. We must pray that this generation will not embrace death as a solution any longer.
We know that the only true source for life is Jesus Christ. As the apostle John says: The Word is life.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John shows us that Jesus is the very source of life. Nothing was created without him, but everything finds its place, its purpose, its being in Jesus. In Him is life.
Jesus is the only answer for finding life! In John 14:6 Jesus himself says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
So when thinking about how to pray for this generation, a generation becoming more and more comfortable with death, let’s pray life for them; specifically, we pray Jesus Christ for them. May God direct them to a single person, a single hope, a single light that shines in the darkness.
For additional help and information click here to download TheHopeLine® eBook, “Understanding Suicide.”