Teen suicide has become an increasing concern, especially quite recently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have risen 30% since 1999. The LA Times reports that the suicide rate amongst young gay men hasn’t seen been so high since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, currently at an astonishing rate of 17.9 completed suicides per 100,000 young men. And as of 2016, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 30.
Vanessa Prosper is a psychologist and therapist at Boston Latin School who speaks to students dealing with suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. High school is a place where teens from all different backgrounds meet, so this conversation is important. Prosper first wanted to acknowledge a misconception: the idea that suicide is caused by one thing.
“That’s not true,” she said. “Suicide is caused by the interaction of many risk factors. So the more risk factors one has, the more one is vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.”
Prosper then began to draw three circles, all crossing over each other and labeled as biological, social, and psychological factors. Biological factors that could contribute to suicide risk include a history of suicide in one’s family, while psychological factors could be mental illnesses such as depression and social factors could be anxiety the person has during interactions with other people. She explained that if all three of these factors are present in one’s life, that person is more vulnerable to having suicidal thoughts.
“Why people have suicidal thoughts is the following: try to think of a time when you had a bad headache,” Prosper prompted. “How did it make you feel? ... Could you think or focus?”
She then explained how emotional pain can impact people similarly.
“You want this pain desperately to go away, except, you can’t think clearly or problem-solve effectively,” she said. “So one thing that might first pop into your mind is to end your life as a solution to end your emotional pain.”
For teens who haven’t dealt with suicide in their own personal lives, the issue is still an important one.
“I believe suicide is a big problem,” said Issabel Goodrich, a 16-year-old student at Boston Latin School. “In the U.S.A. suicide rates are the highest they’ve ever been. It’s very scary — it’s real.”
Students believe that it’s important to discuss the issue.
“I think that suicide is a problem that definitely needs to be addressed,” said Anna Rekatas, a 14-year-old at Brooklyn Latin School. “One loss to suicide is one too many, and the least we can do is spread awareness about it.”
The thought of possibly ending one’s own life is something that a teen, or anyone, should never experience. However, research has reported that suicide is becoming an even larger contributor to young people’s deaths day by day. It affects all people, in one way or another; whether you are a parent, relative or friend of a person who took their own life, your life has been changed.
People like Prosper dedicate themselves daily to fighting suicide. Clinics and hospitals that specialize in treatment for people struggling with self-injury and suicidal thoughts are growing in number to help people who have considered killing themselves by giving them hope and aid. The suicide hotline is one of the most accessible and trustworthy places to find help. But it is also the unsung heroes that help win this treacherous battle. Friends and family members that offer their support are one of the most important things one could have; they are a reminder that someone does love and care for you, even if you think such a person does not exist. And that is how we will win: reminding each other that we love unconditionally, and through offering our support to anyone who needs it.
If you are in crisis, you can find help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1.800.273.8255 or texting “Home” to 741741. If you are looking for mental health care outside of a crisis, visit twloha.com/find-help.