By Larry Hering
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for the age group of 15-24. It is the only cause of death for teens that has shown a significant increase since 2004. In fact, the rise from 2003 to 2004 was over 18% and today there is said to be a teen suicide every hour and forty-five minutes. Why is this happening and what can be done to prevent it?
Dr. Nancy Carroll, an adolescent psychiatrist from Luca County Ohio, says “If you look at suicide in general, the belief is the common denominator is hopeless, helpless pain – unbearable, intolerable pain, not being able to feel like they can tolerate it anymore.” According to Dr. Carroll the most important thing a parent can do is talk to their children about the stressors in their lives. Be aware of the risk factors. Breakups in relationships, drinking, mood changes, and depression are all major risk factors.
Thoughts of suicide must always be taken seriously and it is important not to diminish the feelings of the kids. Helping connect them to support is another important step in helping them. It is important to acknowledge that listening to your kids is not the same as hearing them. Listening shows you are determined to help and the kids know the difference. Sometimes it is a difference between life and death.
Outside support is as important for some kids as having a parent listen to them. Peer counseling has proven to be an effective resource for adolescents. It is well known teenagers rely on each other for information and support, especially during adolescence. Teenagers are often able to talk openly with other teens, particularly about embarrassing or problematic areas of their lives. Finally, a peer counselor can give a teenager the information, encouragement, and reassurance they need to access services provided by adults.
Peer counseling also gives young people the benefits of playing the helper. These benefits include increased self-esteem from the knowledge that they have something to give, decreased dependency, a sense of control that can be empowering, and a feeling of social usefulness. Peer counseling naturally recognizes young peoples’ skills and abilities, their role as part of the solution to a problem, and their willingness to contribute constructively.
There is a growing amount of research indicating that it is possible to change the self-concept. Self-change is not something that people can will for themselves, but it depends on the process of self-reflection. Using self-reflection, kids often come to view themselves in a new, more powerful way. It is through this new, more powerful way of viewing the self that young people can develop a better self-concept. Peer counseling provides the platform for it to happen.
Delivery of support to young people is not what it used to be. If you have in your head the stereotype of a teenager talking on a cell phone, it’s time to replace it. A more accurate picture, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, would show a teen texting away on a cell phone.
The Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Network (MHCSN) has taken note of all this and is currently getting ready to offer peer support via text messaging and online chat. Executive Director Patti Bitney-Starke notes “we have to reach them where they are communicating. Reaching young people where they are communicating means a big change in tactics.” 88 percent of teens are using their cell phones to text, email, and chat. Among the 88 percent of teen cell users who text, three in 10 of them send 100 or more messages per day. Boys send and receive an average of 30 texts per day, while girls exchange an average of 80. MHCSN has taken note.
There are many small programs using the peer support model by texting and online communication. One such program is Teen Line Online in the Los Angeles are. Teen Line was created in 1980 by a group of mental health professionals who, through their personal work with teenagers, realized that a more inclusive approach to adolescent mental health was needed. After extensive research and consultation, Teen Line, a teen-to-teen hotline with community outreach services was born.
This simple act of listening makes a huge difference, sometimes a life-saving one. Each year nearly 9,000 young people call the hotline and more than 30,000 attend our outreaches. Teens know they can trust Teen Line and they do.
MHCSN hopes to mirror the success of Teen Line on a larger scale. There are many areas of the United States that do not have these services available and MHCSN hopes to fill the void. Since they are a non-profit, the funds to provide these services must come from grants and donations. Bitney-Starke says “every one hour and forty-five minutes we lose another one. If everyone stopped and thought about it I’m sure they would be willing to invest five or ten dollars to the cause.”
The cause is complex and efforts to provide peer counseling in all of the popular media will not stop suicide completely. School systems must take up the educational effort, but the peer counseling opportunity will make a big impact. We just need to make it a priority.
If you would like to donate to the cause, here is the link:
Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Network:
- When Teenagers Cut Themselves (everydayhealth.com)
- Ontario city baffled by cluster of teen suicides (ctv.ca)
- Jacksonville young people say trusted adults can help when thinking about suicide (jacksonville.com)
- Teenage Depression: Are Girls at Greater Risk? (everydayhealth.com)