What to say and do if you think a teen is considering suicide
I’m a mother of three sons who are very different and widely spread apart in age. By the time my youngest is 18, I will have been parenting for 36 years, and I have seen the changes and pressures that our kids are facing in today’s culture. Having children has been one of the greatest blessings I have received, yet alongside great joy comes great worry. Most agree that what kids deal with today is much more difficult than it was when we were kids. But I never expected it to become so different, so quickly.
There is an epidemic of kids dealing with anxiety and depression. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 70 percent of teens say anxiety and depression are a “major problem” among their peers. Teen suicides are alarmingly high. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, with approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. My oldest son knew of one person who committed suicide. My youngest knows of three kids who have taken their lives.
Much of the anxiety and depression stems from the amount of stress that kids are living with. My son has tried to explain the level of stress that kids today experience, and I’ll admit that I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around it. Some factors contributing to stress are the pressure to get good grades, as well as testing overload. The entire school year and curriculum are geared towards succeeding on standardized tests. Teens must stay up all night to study and do homework. Between an internal drive to succeed and external social pressures, it’s enough to push many to the brink of suicidal thoughts and actions.
Our Baby Boomer generation doesn’t understand the intensity of the stress. When many of us were teenagers, we could escape from the peer pressure that occurred in school once we were home. But today, teens are always connected through social media, and there is no place they can get away. When teens are experiencing the same or more stress than adults, there’s definitely a problem.
Suicide, anxiety, depression, and stress are pandemic among our youth; we must come up with solutions and turn this tide. It is our job as parents and as a society at large to keep our children healthy and psychologically safe, and that is increasingly difficult. I advocate that it begins with each parent, inside each household; with taking the time to slow down, listen to, and love on each of our kids as individuals. There will always be societal pressures outside of our control, but reminding our children that they are always loved, even if they “fail,” is a great start.