In an earlier post, we talked about the signs of suicide. If you recall, these are common expressions that often point to the possibility that a teen might be suicidal. Today we will talk about “risk factors”. Risk factors are related to signs in that they are red flags that wave at you telling you “Hey! Watch out for this person, they have the potential to be suicidal.”
Specifically, risk factors are things, usually circumstantial in nature, which put a teen at higher risk of developing suicidal thoughts. They might come in many different forms, but they all are things that, if a teen in your life is experiencing, you should try to keep an extra close eye on for the actual signs of suicide.
Why someone might be suicidal?
There are about as many reasons to feel suicidal as there are people on Earth. However, I think it is important to understand what might be going through the mind of someone who is suicidal in order to understand what makes certain situations “risk factors”. Very rarely do people that are suicidal feel that their suicidal feelings are the actual problem. In fact, often times, suicide is the solution that they have identified to some problem in their life. Risk factors are those problems that might make a teen feel so overwhelmed that they see no other solution than taking their own life. So, when thinking about what might be a risk factor for a teen, remember that these risk factors are things that a teen might see as a problem “too big to handle.”
One risk factor that is common among teens include a serious loss. A serious loss can come in many shapes. A death of a close family member, friend, or even a pet can be considered a serious loss in the life of a teen. Especially if it is a loss of something that is dear to the individual; a loss can be life-shattering. However, don’t restrict your idea of a loss to death. Loss can be many other things besides the death of a loved one.
Other types of loss include:
- Loss of health happens when an individual’s health prevents them from keeping the life that they currently have. For example, this would be an individual who has seen great success as a basketball player, but is now unable to continue in his career due to an injury or other health related problem. Another example is someone who enjoyed going to school and spending time with friends, but is now restricted to her home due to an illness.
- As an adult it can be easy to brush off the pain that comes with a break-up. After all, most adults have probably gone through a break-up before they see their kids have their own. It is important to remember, however, that a breakup for a teen can be as devastating as a divorce for an adult. Teens don’t have the same life experiences that most adults have and are dealing with these emotions for the first time.
- As we discussed previously, the transition from high school to college can be incredibly stressful. If a teen is moving away to another city or state for college, this stress might be increased. This type of loss could be defined as a loss of lifestyle. College drastically changes the lifestyle that many teens have enjoyed for almost two decades. On top of that, add the fact that they might be leaving behind people that they love and it is easy to see how a young adult may feel overwhelmed by this transition.
History of suicide is another risk factor that is important to watch out for. A history of suicide means that the teen has known someone personally that attempted suicide or died by suicide. Additionally, it may also mean that the person themselves has attempted suicide before. Either of these scenarios puts the teen at a higher risk of suicide because it has now been introduced as an acceptable way to deal with one’s problems. If a teen has attempted suicide before and they still feel as trapped as they did then, it might be easy to attempt again.
Troublesome behavior may also be a risk factor. This includes alcohol as well as other drugs. Additionally, getting in trouble frequently, having disciplinary problems, and engaging in high-risk behavior are also risk factors that you should watch out for.
A psychiatric disorder can additionally be seen as a risk factor. Specifically, depression and trauma/stress related disorders are risk factors in teens. Dealing with these types of psychiatric disorders can be daunting. In fact, it can be difficult for the entire family and friends of the individual. A teen might feel that their condition or life is never going to get better, or they might fear that it might get worse if their disorder worsens. For this reason, suicide can become an option.
Some aspects of a social life can also be risk factors. If a teen is being bullied at school, the teen is at a higher risk of suicide. Bullying can be very impactful in a teen’s life, and it might seem like an unfixable problem. Likewise, a teen who has a lot of pressure to meet high standards, such as good grades, run school clubs, organize and participate in school activities, etc. may start to feel overwhelmed. Remember, no matter what “type” a teen is, there are always circumstances that can easily become overwhelming.
And finally, lack of social support (whether perceived or real) is another risk factor. If a teen doesn’t feel they have the necessary people in their life to help them through difficult times, suicide might become an option versus talking to a close family member and figuring out a different solution with a friend.
If you fear that your child or friend might be at risk, there are some things that can help prevent the teen from reaching the point where suicide becomes an option for them.
Communication is a preventative action that can be very effective. If you notice, a lot of risk factors have to do with problems that may be perceived as incredibly complex. This is part of the reason that someone might become suicidal; death might seem simpler than any solution that the teen has thought about. However, good communication and a good connection with family members and friends, promotes the idea of speaking about feelings and finding alternative solutions.
Likewise, helping a teen garner and hone problem solving skills is another form of preventative action. Teens that have good problem solving skills are able to solve bigger problems than their peers that may not have the same skills. With these problem solving skills, they are able to think of different solutions to suicide that they might not have thought about if they didn’t have those specific skills.
Another preventative action can be restricting the teen from engaging in behavior that may put him at risk such as alcohol, drugs, and other behavior outlined above. This can keep the teen stay safe. In the same way, restricting a teen from access to highly lethal means of suicide can help.
Lastly, another preventive action is to ensure that the teen has many adequate resources to help with their mental health. If you recall, psychiatric disorders are a risk factor. If your teen has a disorder like this, it is important that they find professional help so that they can handle it better. However, resources shouldn’t be restricted to just teens that have a psychiatric disorder. Help can be found for anyone dealing with any sort of problem.
This is where Teen Lifeline comes in. If you know a teen or a friend that you fear might be at risk for suicide, they can call Teen Lifeline to talk about those problems. Our Peer Counselors are extensively and specifically trained to help. When someone calls, we are prepared to talk to them about anything that is going on in their life, and we are able to help them figure out the best way they can deal with problems.
If you know someone who could use Teen Lifeline, don’t hesitate to give them our number (602-248-TEEN) so that they can receive the help they need.
For the past four years Luis Barcelo has volunteered thousands of hours for Teen Lifeline as a Peer Counselor. Now, as an adult volunteer and communications intern at Teen Lifeline, he hopes to continue helping struggling teens wherever they may be.