Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
I am very distressed. Not only do I keep reading about teen suicide in the paper, but recently it’s hit close to home- my neighbor’s teen daughter killed herself. It seems that many of the 12 to 18 year old population are either trying to kill themselves or ending up in psychiatric institutions.
What gives? Is the whole population at the breaking point?
This is indeed an alarming trend. Suicide is now is the #2 cause of death for tweens and teens, coming in second after accidents. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the ubiquitous use of antidepressants which is fueling it. The suicide rate has actually gone up since psychiatry pulled back using antidepressants on teenagers due to suicide black box warnings on these medications.
There are many cultural factors that function together to make the teen years difficult. A Teenager’s brain is fueled primarily by feelings that are reflexive and in the moment. It is as if they are always surrounded by mirrors. Everything is experienced through these mirrors as a reflection of the Self. This greatly exaggerates everything. In later years, the higher cortical centers begin to innervate and these mirrors start becoming translucent. Perspective takes time to develop.
The media bombardment with Armageddon is creating both a response of fear…and it’s opposite. Teens can develop an apathetic “I don’t care” stance. Both of these attitudes fuel non rational thinking and also sell a lot of products. Also, due to the economy, jobs ordinarily filled by teens are now being taken by desperate adults, leaving teenagers bored and unchallenged. For some of them, an intense competitiveness has developed through lack of opportunity. The prevalent belief is “only the best will succeed.”
Internet and texting perpetuate superficial relationships, instant gratification and a self inflated sense of importance. The internet is yet another set of mirrors exaggerating a teen’s feelings. Ideas are contagious and suicide is a virus quickly spread through media. There is also an easy access to inappropriate prescriptions, drugs and guns; this most certainly is not helping today’s teens.
It’s not easy being teen. A lot of forces are piling up to interfere with our kids developing a perspective that will give them the skills to develop into healthy adults.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: Teen suicide is undoubtedly on the rise. The incidence of suicide amongst the 15-24 age range has tripled since 1960. However, an article in the New York Times, March 1, 2013, states that the suicide rates among middle aged Americans, particularly the Baby Boomer crowd, has also risen sharply. Men are far more likely to take their own lives than women (27.3 per 100,000 compared to 8.1 per 1000,000.) Economic worries and the prevalence of painkillers and other drugs are both contributing factors, although the leading method of suicide is still guns (please heed these statistics, NRA.)
I doubt that this will ease your neighbor’s mind, but the New York Times also printed an article in 1987 that noted that teen suicide rates had risen 50% from previous decades. It has been a problem for many many years, and our current economic crisis, along with availability of prescription drugs, is doing little to stem the tide.
However, here is something that it is VERY important to know: according to teensuicideprevention.org, which dedicates itself to preventing this tragedy, 60 to 80% of teens who kill themselves sought help in the month before they died. Suicide attempts are often a cry for help- there are far more attempted suicides than successful ones. Successful attempts are usually very well planned. What this means, for all of us, is that it is important to watch for signs of trouble in teens, and to take threats of suicide seriously. If teens did not want to be stopped, they would not seek help. They would just shoot themselves in the freakin’ head.
In these days of abbreviated communication, depersonalization, and teen apathy, it is essential we remember that behind the drive to appear “cool” and the need to win, there is still a vulnerable and very real human being inside every teen, with feelings and emotional needs. When they believe that that there is no one they can turn to in times of weakness and pain, it is then that they are truly lost.