We have been struck, again, by celebrity suicides. How could it have happened? They had so much to live for. They were so successful, so popular. And yet it continues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999, the suicide rate in the U.S. has increased nearly 30 percent. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for the deaths of nearly 45,000 Americans over age 10.
Forty-six percent of suicides involved a diagnosed mental condition. Common contributing factors to suicide include: a relationship problem, a personal crisis, substance abuse, a physical health problem or a job or financial problem. The CDC emphasizes that suicide is rarely caused by any single factor but rather involves multiple factors.
Often when a high-profile suicide occurs, other suicides follow.
A teen's environment can be a minefield of uncertainty, anxiety and worry. A new school, the ebb and flow of friendships, academic workloads, the worry of an insecure world, the latest school shooting can all add pressure to a teen's life. Some parents have told us they feel that their child may be depressed but are unsure of what to do about it. Counselors we have talked to tell us they see a lot more cases of anxiety and depression in teens at school. It's a troubling trend.
What's a parent to do?
If your child is experiencing impact from serious stress, your first response should be to listen. Ask open-ended questions. Find out how things are going. Ask her about her classes, inquire about his friends and social activities. Try to uncover any special challenges that are plaguing her. Provide space for your child to respond, and listen carefully without judgment.
Watch for withdrawal from friends and social activities, uncharacteristic silence or unwavering focus on a recent suicide or traumatic event.
Don't hesitate to seek help from a professional. This may be a teacher, counselor, minister or mental health professional.
It has been shown that parents can have tremendous influence on teens when they encounter difficulty. Dr. Jill Suttie from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, points out that scientists are developing a better understanding of teen depression and how to prevent it. Suggestions include providing parental support, modeling strong social skills, encouraging positive peer relationships, helping teens to seek a purpose and improving the school environment.
Parental involvement can be key to the health of your child. Don't wait to involve yourself or seek outside help.
The known unknowns
We need to provide a strong system of love and attention for our kids, keep open lines of communication, know what is going on and seek outside help when needed. In this unpredictable, uncertain, changing world, perhaps that is the best knowledge to have — the knowledge of what we don't know.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line (text 'home' to 741-741) can be of enormous help. Don't go it alone, and don't ignore signals.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of "Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers." Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at Dads2Dadsllc. Contact them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com.