Thanks to some recent high profile cases, teen suicide has become a topic for discussion in schools and homes across Canada. In this News in Review story we examine some of the ways in which this discussion is changing how we view teen suicide and attempt to prevent it.
Note to Teachers: Teen suicide is a very sensitive and emotional topic and it is important to create a safe place for students to consider the topic and its effect on friends and family members. Students should not be made to share out loud their answers to questions, as their answers may be too personal to reveal publicly. It is also a good idea to prep students the day before that suicide is going to be the topic for discussion and invite anyone who has serious concerns to speak to you ahead of time. Suicide is very much one of those topics that most people would prefer not to think about, let alone discuss.
Nonetheless, lots of people do think about it. In an average year in Canada, over 3 500 people take their own lives. Many of them are teenagers. Many more attempt suicide.
Why do young people try to kill themselves? There is no simple answer—and there are a number of possible reasons— but it seems that the vast majority of these teens are suffering from some kind of debilitating mental illness. In the majority of cases that illness is never diagnosed. Even family members are unaware of the problem until a suicide attempt is made.
Recently, some families who have lost children to suicide have begun to speak out. They want to share their stories to help others recognize the signs that a teen may be contemplating a suicide—because those signs are not always easy to recognize. They are asking for programs to help both families and students recognize the danger signs.
These families know that mental illness can strike anyone and that there is no shame in talking about it. They realize that, had they had more information and known what to look for, they might have been able to intervene before it was too late.
There is also increasing recognition that other factors play an important role in determining who is likely to make a suicide attempt. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are four times as likely as straight youth to try to kill themselves. Bullying in general contributes to attempts by those being bullied; and over 90 per cent of LGBT youth report that they have been bullied.
Serious attempts are being made to solve the problem of teen suicide. Schools and youth organizations are refining their anti-bullying programs, tailoring them to their individual circumstances. Programs are being developed for schools to promote awareness of the extent and dangers of mental illness. Governments are providing increased funding for research into mental illness and its treatment to aid in the prevention of suicide.
Most importantly, however, people—teens, parents, teachers—are being encouraged to talk about suicide and the reasons it can happen. This News in Review story hopes to contribute to an ongoing dialogue on teen suicide and its prevention.