September is National Suicide Awareness Month
As a teen, I had a friend who sometimes talked of suicide. My 16-year-old self wanted to help him, but I really didn’t know how to do that beyond being kind, listening to him, and telling him I cared. Waves of anxiety would come over me every time he called, and I felt a great weight of responsibility. What I didn’t know was that I didn’t have to carry this burden alone; there were other things I could have done—particularly getting an adult to intervene.
Suicide is currently the number two cause of death for people 10 to 18 years of age. It’s important for us to recognize the signs and take action. The following is adapted or quoted from the National Association of School Psychologists Tips on Preventing Suicide. We hope you find it helpful.
Know the Warning Signs
Suicide rarely happens without warning. As a peer, you may be in the best position to recognize when a friend might need help and help them get it. You may see signs in person, hear about them secondhand, or see them online in social media. Never ignore these signs. Suicide is preventable. By listening, talking, and acting you could save a life. The most common warning signs are:
- Suicide notes.
- Direct or indirect threats of suicide.
- Depression (including the inability to sleep, sleeping all the time, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, isolation, withdrawal from friendship groups, loss of interest in previously enjoyed interests, inexplicable crying, etc.)
- "Masked" depression, including risk-taking behaviors such as acts of aggression, gunplay, and alcohol/substance abuse.
- Final arrangements such as saying goodbye to friends, giving away prized possessions, or deleting profiles, pictures or posts online.
- Self-harming behaviors.
- Inability to concentrate or think clearly.
- Dramatic Changes, including becoming less involved in activities that were once important, withdrawing from (or avoiding) friends and family, and skipping school or classes.
- Plan/method/access. A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased interest in guns and other weapons, may seem to have increased access to guns, pills, etc., and/or may talk about or hint at a suicide plan. The greater the planning, the greater the potential for suicide. Likewise, the threat is raised significantly if someone has made previous suicide attempts.
What Can You Do to Help a Friend?
Know the warning signs! Read over the list above and keep it in a safe place.
Do not be afraid to talk to your friends. Listen to their feelings. Make sure they know how important they are to you, but don't believe you can keep them from hurting themselves on your own. Preventing suicide will require help from adults.
Make no deals. Never keep secret a friend's suicidal plans or thoughts. You cannot promise that you will not tell—you have to tell to save your friend!
Tell an adult. Talk to your parent, your friend's parent, your school's psychologist or counselor—any trusted adult. Don't wait! Don't be afraid that the adults will not believe you or take you seriously—keep talking until they listen! Even if you are not sure your friend is suicidal, talk to someone. This is definitely the time to be safe, not sorry!
Feeling hopeless, helpless, or depressed can result in extreme emotional pain and desperation. Sometimes these feelings result in thoughts of suicide, but it is important to let the person with these thoughts know that there is help and hope. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, talk to a trusted adult or call 988 or 314-469-6644 or text "START" to 741-741.
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