According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for people ages 10-24 has increased 56% from 2007 to 2017 (Abbott, 2019). Additionally, suicide has become the 2nd leading cause of death for Americans aged 15 to 24 (Santhanam, 2019). Recently, the Highland Park ISD of Northern Dallas has exhibited the national trend of rising teen suicide; sadly, there has already been a teen suicide in Highland Park in 2020.
These statistics, as well as the tragic stories we often hear of teen suicide in our communities, indicate that we need to investigate and come up with an action plan to address why so many young people choose to end their own life, rather than living through difficulties. Difficulties and pain come to all people throughout different seasons of their lives, but what kind of difficulties and pain are young Americans facing that are leading to such a drastic rise in suicide?
Teens and Identity
I suggest that a major part of the situation is the lack of foundational identity and purpose that so many young people feel as they seek to understand themselves. This lack of secure identity and purpose leads to a lack of hope, which leads to an inescapable feeling that life is not worth living. In working with the teen population for the past 5 years I have discovered that many teens have almost no idea where to start with understanding themselves and all the thoughts and feelings they experience. In a culture that often seems to indicate to young Americans that their thoughts and feelings are their identity; this approach often leaves teens confused and deflated due to the sheer spectrum of the thoughts and feelings they experience. Without clear boundaries for identity, teens are led to believe that whatever thoughts or feelings come into their experience prove who they really are.
False Narratives and Emotions
As human beings, we are not the thoughts and emotions we experience. We are beings who have a mind and emotions, but they are not our identity. To not differentiate between our “being” and the mind and emotions we have, means that we are the product of whatever we end up feeling or thinking each day. The reason this is dangerous is because there are numerous examples of why a false narrative accompanied by the emotions associated with that false narrative can arise in someone’s experience. An obvious example of this is Stockholm Syndrome; according to Encyclopedia Britannica, Stockholm Syndrome is a, “psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands” (Lambert, 2014). The placebo effect also proves that a person’s mind is capable of convincing them almost anything is true and their body and emotions will respond accordingly (Harvard Health Publishing, 2019).
There is obviously a place for self-control in regards to not obeying every thought or emotion. Sometimes when someone is angry toward another person, they may have a thought or intense feeling to physically attack the other person; this does not mean they should actually listen to those thoughts or feelings.
Finding a Solution
On a basic level, part of the solution for teens struggling with their thoughts and feelings is to learn the basics of mindfulness. All human beings, but especially young, impressionable human beings need to learn how to observe their thoughts and feelings rather than obeying every thought and feeling. Through observation of thoughts and feelings a teen can learn to differentiate their true identity from those often reactive thoughts and feelings, and thus, when something difficult arises in their life, they don’t associate their worth and life with that short-term event. Even teens can learn to find their true value and see the joy of going through the seasons of life without identifying with every negative thought or feeling.
Thankfully, the Highland Park ISD has formed a “HOPE” network of support and resources for local teens and families. Many other areas of Texas and around the country have also formed “HOPE” networks and other alliances to bring hope, support, and awareness to this often hidden issue. These “HOPE” networks can be found through searching for them on an internet search engine; for example, the Highland Park support network can be found by putting “PC HOPE task force” into a search engine and clicking the corresponding link. They have a crisis support number and a crisis text line to provide support to students and adults who are involved with a person who is struggling. Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
For any concerned person who is looking for signs that a young person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, some of the signs to look for are a combination of the following:
- Noticeable changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Unexplained or unusually severe, violent, or rebellious behavior
- Withdrawal from family or friends
- Sexual promiscuity, truancy, and vandalism
- Drastic personality change
- Agitation, restlessness, distress, or panicky behavior
- Talking or writing about committing suicide, even jokingly
- Giving away prized possessions
- Doing worse in school
Dallas Whole Life Counseling is making ourselves available as a resource to local teens, parents and families who are currently battling this issue in their own households or grieving the losses from such tragic events. Through bringing this issue to local and national awareness and making support networks and resources available, we can form a structure of community support that can prevent future suicide and help heal from recent and past losses.
- Abbott, Brianna. “Youth Suicide Rate Increased 56% in Decade, CDC Says.” The Wall Street Journal, (2019).
- Grigsby, Sharon. “Highland Park just lost another teen to suicide. Here’s why the school district isn’t staying silent about it.” Dallas Morning News, (2020).
- Harvard Health Publishing. “The Power of the Placebo Effect.” Harvard Men’s Health Watch, (2017).
- Lambert, Laura. “Stockholm Syndrome.” Encyclopedia Britannica, (2014).
- Santhanam, Laura. “Youth Suicide Rates are on the Rise in the US.” PBS News Hour, (2019).