The Dilemma Of Adolescent Suicide Essay, Research Paper
Adolescent suicide is an increasing problem in today s society. There are many contributing factors to suicide as well as many possible ways of preventing suicide. If the society we live in today is to thrive, adolescent suicide must be drastically reduced. The future of our country is throwing their lives away, often over very trivial issues. A support system must be created so suicidal teens have an outlet in which to share the reasons behind their desire to end their life.
Countries around the world have different attitudes regarding suicide. In Japan, suicide is a glorified act. They feel that suicide is an honorable resolution of unsolvable dilemmas (GAP 4). In India, the Brahmins hold suicide as an honorable path to the afterlife. They would often practice a ritual called Suttee. This practice involves a widow being cremated on the funeral pyre of her husband (GAP 4). In the United States, suicide is an act that is not revered. Although many people accept suicide, it is often thought of as the cowardly way out of a situation.
Suicide is the willful act of killing one s own self. Suicide involves no coercion and often comes after a period of depression. Suicide is the route often taken when a person feels too engulfed in his or her problems. In the United States, suicide has been found to be the ninth leading cause of death (Robbins 9). In a 1989 study regarding adolescent suicide, Niall Bolger and his associates found that seventy-five percent of college students interviewed had considered suicide at some point in their lives (Robbins 10). Suicide may often be mistaken for an accident. The difference between the two is intent. An accident merely occurs, but a suicide is committed on purpose (Robbins 5). Suicide has been around for thousands of years. The first type of suicide has been deemed acceptable to increase the strength of a nation. Examples of this include dying for one s country, dying with one s king, or killing oneself when one has become a burden for the family. Although the bulk of these are not widely acceptable practices today, in the past they were thought to be extremely honorable. The second type of suicide, which one will learn about in this essay, deals with a protest against personal pain or despair (GAP 3). Examples of this type of suicide include death to escape dishonor, death due to the loss of a loved one, or escape from a physical pain (GAP 3).
There are many factors that possibly contribute to an adolescent committing suicide. These include some sort of psychological disturbance, chemical dependence, and questioning one s own sexuality. It has been established that adolescents with psychiatric disorders have a higher rate of suicide than those who do not have psychiatric disorders (Lester 39). It has also been found that suicidal adolescents tend to come from dysfunctional families where they have suffered an immense amount of trauma. These adolescents tend to be extremely depressed and have behavioral problems (Lester 56). Adolescents who have more experiences with physical or sexual abuse were found to have a higher rate of suicide than those who had experienced neither of these (Lester 56). Adolescents who are suicidal often have lower grade point averages in school. A 1987 study on suicidal middle school students showed that these children felt their academic status was well below what their parents expected (Lester 58). It seems to have been found that the parents of suicidal adolescents have higher rates of marriage problems, job-related problems, and parenting problems. The suicidal children of these types of parents often had the feeling that no one cared for them (Lester 59). Many believe suicide is the result of the inability to cope with one s poor quality of life. Researchers A.F. Henry and J.F. Short found suicide is more likely in people who are unhappy with no external source to blame for their misery. Those who have an external source, such as poverty, to blame for their misery, tend to become outwardly aggressive rather than suicidal (Lester 82). If this is true, adolescents of today have very little external sources of misery as compared to the past. This is shown by a decrease in poverty, better education, smaller families, and increased spending on child welfare services (Lester 85). Therefore a rise in adolescent suicide has begun. Events will often occur in a person s life which have the potential to drive that person beyond the point of rational thought. These events may include interpersonal losses, difficulties in school, or conflicts with parents (Robbins 80). Interpersonal losses involve the death of a parent or other close family member, loss of a friend, or the termination of a romantic relationship. These events can be devastating to the emotions of an adolescent therefore driving him or her into a deep state of depression. There are many difficulties in school which have the potential to drive an adolescent to suicide. Constant bullying by other students is a very common problem. When a student is constantly bullied, it is very easy for his self-esteem to be demolished. When an adolescent has no self-esteem, it is very easy to fall into a pit of despair which could easily lead to suicide. Conflicts between teenagers and parents are very common in today s society. Often the adolescent will misconstrue these conflicts and feel as if they are constantly being belittled. This constant feeling of belittling has the potential of driving the adolescent into the suicidal state (Robbins 80-84).
Suicide may be carried out in many different ways. A few of the more common methods are gunshot wounds, carbon monoxide poisoning, hanging, drowning and drug overdose (Hill 27). Of these methods, gunshot wounds are the most common. It was found that males used a gun to commit suicide sixty-two percent of the time while females used a gun fifty percent of the time. A possible reason for this is the more violent nature of males. It has also been found that females are more likely to commit suicide, but are more likely to botch the attempt than males. The suicide method that does not result in death the most is drug overdose. In drug overdose situations, the majority of people who attempt suicide do not ingest enough drugs to ensure death. This often leads to trips to the hospital for stomach pumping (Robbins 30-33).
There are a few methods which involve the suicide of multiple adolescents. A suicide cluster is when there are a number of suicides stemming from one common suicide. The suicide of someone in the public eye often appears to induce suicide clusters. People feel they are so attached to a celebrity that when the celebrity commits suicide, they are compelled to kill themselves. This occurs most often in adolescents and elderly (Lester 66). Another method of multiple suicides is the double suicide. A double suicide involves a suicide pact in which two individuals vow to kill themselves together. A double suicide involves a mutual decision between the two participants and is less impulsive than normal suicides (Lester 74).
Many repercussions come about as a result of suicide. The suicide of a person often brings about intense anger and guilt to those who were close to the deceased. The reason guilt is brought up is because people often feel they should have intervened in some way (Lester 145). Following the suicide of a close friend, many adolescents develop post-traumatic stress disorder or may fall into a period of severe depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder is often brought on by a very traumatic event in one s life such as the sudden death of a close person or war. Nightmares, anxiety, and flashbacks often characterize this disorder (Robbins 98).
In order to prevent adolescent suicide, one must become familiar with the behaviors common of those who are suicidal. These behaviors include, but are not limited to, isolation, loss of trust, feelings of despair, and depression. Suicidal adolescents tend to have a number of personality traits which differ from the traits of nonsuicidal teenagers. These traits include an extremely low self-esteem, blaming others for their own unhappiness, and trouble finding solutions to their current problems (Lester 59). There are several clues which often point to a possible suicide. These are previous attempts, verbal statements, cognitive clues, emotional clues, sudden behavioral changes, life threatening behaviors, and suicide notes (Lester 124-126). When one hears previous attempts, he or she will often visualize a botched suicide attempt. This is not necessarily the case. Often adolescents with suicidal thoughts will mock a suicide attempt by performing an act which is not necessarily fatal such as cutting one s wrist. These attempts are usually cries for help. Although not always life threatening, immediate treatment for the attempter must be sought. Verbal statements about suicide are often cries for help. These may be subtle statements about death that should not be dismissed. Questioning a person s motives when they make statements like this is a good way of bringing the person s problems to the surface. Cognitive clues refer to a change in the thought process. Suicidal persons often narrow their perceptions and opinions. They will often use words such as only , never , and forever. Suicidal adolescents often display numerous emotional clues. Suicidal teenagers are often disturbed anxious, and extremely agitated. The adolescent may also experience feelings of hopelessness in which he or she feels that things will never change. Sudden behavioral changes are defined as drastic changes in attitude. People who are usually withdrawn will suddenly become very outgoing and those who are normally outgoing will suddenly become very introverted. A sudden obsession with death is also a sign of behavioral changes. Life threatening behaviors such as the abuse of alcohol, automobile accidents, and improper care of medical conditions should be viewed as suicidal clues. Another flag when determining whether or not an adolescent is suicidal is the suicide note. When one hears suicide note, many things come to mind. The note does not have to be a written out explanation of death. The clues may also be found in artwork, diaries, and music (Lester 124-127).
In order to interrupt the suicidal process a communication barrier must be broken down. The first barrier is the inability to explain the problem. Often adolescents are not able to vocalize exactly what is bothering them. This inability to vent will often lead the adolescent to vent in other ways, typically through behavior. These times of despair and frustration are generally when suicide attempts will occur (Hill 171). Many times people will underestimate the problems of an adolescent. As one grows older, the problems of youth seem to become less and less important. This leads to adults trivializing the problems by saying that everything will work out for the best. When things do not work out the adolescent may plunge deeper into a state of depression. Disbelief of suicidal signs in adolescents can be detrimental. If someone sees and ignores the signs that point to suicide in an adolescent, that adolescent may get the feeling that no one cares about them. Silence about a suicide attempt can also be detrimental to the adolescent. If the reasons for the attempt are not discussed, it is very likely that the attempt will come about again.
In a book published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) entitled Youth Suicide Prevention Programs: A Resource Guide, preventative programs are broken down into eight categories. These categories are school gatekeeper training, community gatekeeper training, general suicide education, screening programs, peer support programs, crisis hotlines, means restriction, and post-suicide intervention (Robbins 118). A gatekeeper is an individual in a person s life who is able to notice when that person is beginning to experience suicidal thoughts. School gatekeeper training is the education of officials in schools to recognize the signs of suicide and to alert these officials to places where the students may go for help. This training works best when applied to officials who work closely with students such as coaches and teachers. Community gatekeeping works on the same premise as school gatekeeping. The only difference between the two is the people involved. With community gatekeeper training, members of the clergy, police and others who have constant contact with adolescents are taught the signs of suicide and proper places of treatment. General Suicide Education involves discussing suicide with adolescents in school as to not create a preoccupation with suicide. Screening programs are tests which would be given to large numbers of people in order to determine who is suicidal and to get them treatment. In order for this to work, a universal test for suicidality would have to be created and the entire public would have to agree to take the test. The idea of peer support groups is to give teenagers a place to find people with similar problems and to make friends. When teenagers with similar problems are put together, they will be able to talk about their problems and potentially be able to find solutions to them. An adult is necessary for this program to identify adolescents who would benefit from these sessions and to find stable teenagers who would be willing to help out. Crisis hotlines are twenty-four hour services that people may call for free. These services are there to deter callers from suicide, offer emotional support, and give out referral numbers for additional help. The volunteers are taught to assess all situations based on three categories. These are suicidal thinking, suicidal planning, and imminent danger (Robbins 125). If a caller is in imminent danger of committing suicide the volunteer may make an agreement with the caller to delay the act. The volunteer must make the caller feel that he or she is genuinely concerned with the well being of the caller. Means restriction is limiting the available number of ways to commit suicide. Limiting the number of available methods is very important when attempting to prevent suicide because adolescent suicide attempts are usually a spontaneous act. If the means of inflicting harm are not present for the suicidal adolescent, there is a good possibility that the impulse to commit suicide will go away after a while. Post-suicide intervention refers to the problem of suicide clusters. The CDC has recommended a plan for communities on ways to prevent suicide clusters. The plan basically involves educating people properly on the ways to announce the suicide, giving proper information to the media, not sensationalizing the suicide, and attempting to change the probable trigger for the suicide. The CDC also suggests post-suicide counseling for those who were close to the deceased (Robbins118-128).
In their book, Suicidal Youth, John Davis and Jonathan Sandoval discuss the implementation of district policies for crisis management. The district policy is an extension of the school gatekeeper method. Creating a district policy means establishing a set of guidelines regarding suicide to follow throughout a district. These policies give each district a uniform way to deal with suicidal adolescents. Along with having a policy which defines procedures for dealing with suicidal adolescents, additional components must be added to the policy for it to work. The first thing that must be done to assure school readiness is training of the staff. For a policy to be complete, a chain of command should be established. This chain of command needs to include a district coordinator to oversee all of the activity in the schools as well as a school coordinator to look over each individual school and report back to the district coordinator. In this system, the district coordinator wields the authority to make all final decisions. If the district coordinator is not present to make the decision, there should be at least one person delegated to act as a proxy. During the training process, these coordinators would be chosen. Training should also contain methods of recognizing suicidal behaviors and procedures on how to assist the suicidal adolescent. The plan should include how and when the parents of the adolescent are to be notified. If the parents are expected to be uncooperative, a professional may be contacted first to help explain the gravity of the situation. If it appears that the adolescent is an immediate threat to either himself or those around him, a policy should be included regarding hospitalization. To alleviate confusion about transpired events, all students and media should be given only information deemed relevant by the district coordinator. One person should be delegated as the media spokesperson. This person must have good communication skills and work closely with the district spokesperson. To avoid the inundation of the spokesperson with requests for information, that person mat choose to prepare a statement for the press. Counseling for the adolescents left behind after the suicide of a peer is very important (Davis 153-164). A means for counseling those who are interested should always be available following a crisis. If counseling is not available, there is a chance of many students becoming depressed or wanting to emulate the suicide of their peer.
Many feel education is a good way to prevent suicide while others believe that teaching students about suicide plants the seed in their minds. Charlotte Ross, creator of one of the first suicide prevention programs in schools, says adolescents are already aware of suicide. She believes education is key to removing suicide as an option (Poland 162). The education of students would include stories of survivors who regret their decision to commit suicide. The students are told that suicide is an irrational decision to kill oneself and that the time of wishing for one s death is very short and not actually meant. Mark Twain once said, There are times in every man s life when he would like to die temporarily (Poland 162). It is not abnormal to wish that one were dead. The abnormality comes when that desire is acted upon. These discussions on suicide need to be held in intimate settings. Large classes or assemblies are not good because there is not a personal interaction between teacher and student. The groups also need to be small enough for all students to feel comfortable about expressing their feelings (Poland 165).
Once it is recognized that an adolescent is suicidal, it is very important that measures be taken to prevent the adolescent from carrying out the act of suicide. One may help by assisting the adolescent verbalize what the problem is, giving comfort to him or her, and by simply listening to what he or she has to say. When it is found that an adolescent is suicidal, immediate treatment must be sought. If a suicide attempt has already occurred, hospitalization may be necessary. If the adolescent has not attempted suicide but has suicidal thoughts, then counseling may be necessary. Once the adolescent is not considering suicide, it is important to determine from where the suicidal thoughts stem. When confronted with suicidal behaviors, it is important that a few steps be followed. The first thing to do is believe the signs when they are presented. Next, one must check things out to see if others have noticed the same attitudes. Being calm when dealing with the situation is very important. If the adolescent senses distress, it will drive him or her further into a state of fear. Listen to the thoughts of the adolescent and do not make judgement calls. Showing a genuine concern for the individual will allow the to place more trust in you. Getting help for the suicidal adolescent is very important. If there is a high risk of suicide, never leave the person by him or herself.
Suicide is a very big problem in today s adolescent culture. With the implementation of various programs for education about suicide, it will one day vanish as a plague against youth. The ability of teachers and other adults recognize the signs of suicide and the protocol of dealing with suicide will give all adolescents a better quality of life. The adolescent must be willing to share his or her feelings with those around, therefore the person confronting him or her must be compassionate and trustworthy. Eventually through prevention methods and education about suicide it will not be seen as an acceptable way of dealing with one s problems.
Davis, John M., and Jonathan Sandoval. Suicidal Youth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP). Adolescent Suicide. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Incorporation, 1996.
Hill, Kate. The Long Sleep: Young People and Suicide. London: Virago Press, 1995.
Lester, David, Ph.D. The Cruelest Death: The Enigma of Adolescent Suicide. Philadelphia: The Charles Press, 1993.
Poland, Scott, Ed.D. Suicide Intervention in the Schools. New York: The Guilford Press, 1989.
Robbins, Paul R. Adolescent Suicide. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1998.