Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Youth Suicide – Let’s Give Them Hope (by Sara Lindberg)

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Youth Suicide - Let's Give Them Hope

I just can’t take it anymore. The voices are getting stronger, and I find that I can’t pull myself away. It’s getting too hard, and I don’t want to live. Please help me.” Sitting across from me, she speaks those words. Desperation, fear and sadness mix with the tears running down her face. I can’t help but notice her hands; they shake and she tries to control them. It’s the only thing she feels like she can still control.

She settles herself enough to answer a few questions—the questions I have to ask as a school counselor, the ones I hate asking. There are usually three that I start with. Sometimes it’s easier just to go for it; they know what’s coming.

“Are you thinking about hurting yourself—about killing yourself?”

“Do you have a plan?”

“Do you have means to do it?”

For some reason, the last one is the hardest. I have been asking those questions for 15 years, and the answer to the third question feels so final. If they are confident enough in their plan to have a means to carry it out, we are really close to losing them.

On any given day, this conversation is taking place. It may be happening in a counselor’s office, a classroom, with a therapist, pastor or friend. We are lucky if it is taking place—that means there is hope. It’s the ones who don’t talk about it that we lose, those who have meticulously answered all three of those questions on their own. We lost them before they even left us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 42,773 suicides reported in 2014, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the United States died by suicide every 12.3 minutes on average.

There is a direct correlation between depression and teen suicide. The CDC reports that for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45 percent), suffocation (40 percent) and poisoning (8 percent).

Death from suicide is only part of the problem. More young people survive attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9 to 12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the previous year.

There was one morning in particular that I remember the most. It was winter, so the faint sign of light in my office was coming from a small lamp. I had just arrived at work and saw the shadow of someone sitting in one of my chairs. I wasn’t expecting anyone this early, so I found myself a bit apprehensive about what to expect.

Sitting in the dark was the one student I worried about the most. He was the one who I thought about when I went home at night—wondering if I would see him the next day. His head was down, and his hands were trembling. Tears escaped his eyes as he looked up at me. His voice was quiet, but serious as he spoke to me: “I almost did it last night.”

I found myself wanting to say something, to start asking the questions and going through my list of what to do, but I stopped and just listened.

“I was sitting in my room with the gun. It was loaded. I had it in my mouth and my finger on the trigger and then I heard it—my mom. She had just come home and called out my name. I stopped.”

Even writing this now, so many years later, I ache for him. His pain, desperation, isolation, hopelessness and helplessness was too much. Killing himself was the only option he felt he had. I always think about the interruption that night. His mom calling out his name—that defining moment in her life. The moment that saved his life.

Time

Time is what we talk about with youth. Many of them report an urge to kill themselves that sometimes lasts a short time. If they can get through it, they do not complete suicide. If they do not have access to end their life, they wake up the next day. If someone happens to interrupt them, they can get help before they feel the urge again. If they have a lifeline—someone to reach out to—we see them at school.

There is no empty chair in a classroom.

Trust

Identifying one person they can go to, one person they can trust to be vulnerable with, to open up and share their thoughts with—this is what we desperately hope for in the fight to save their life.

Connections

Human connection is a powerful thing. When it seems that there is no one who understands, a hand reaching out is sometimes the one thing that begins the journey toward seeking help.

I’m not sure if I have the answer for how to end this. I don’t even know if we will ever celebrate a decline in youth suicides. It seems as though the numbers are staggering. Any suicide is one too many.

What I do know is that our kids need us. They need to see hope in our eyes and feel heard and accepted when they come to us. We need to help them understand that they are not alone in a world that feels so lonely.

We need to tell them to keep holding on.

There is help.

There is hope.

They are not alone.

This is not how their story has to end.


Sara LindbergAbout the Author: Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg is a 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counselor. Combining her 20-plus years’ experience in the fitness and counseling fields, she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. When she is not running, working with teenagers, or driving her own kids crazy, she manages a Facebook page called FitMom. Sara has a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She does not consider herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts and access to a computer. She gains inspiration for her writing from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.

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7 Comments

Sharon H

Although it wasn’t a suicide attempt, my sweet 12 year old niece had to be taken to the ER because she slit her wrists. For the next week, she was not to be left alone. My brother and his wife were shocked. They are excellent parents but Tara’s self-esteem was so low that she felt she really didn’t matter to anyone and thus never told them of how she was feeling inside. She is better now, but it came as such a shock to all of us.

This article has helped me to deal with my own feelings regarding this event. Thank you.

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Chris T

We are in the middle of this pain with our teenage son. He has been to several treatment centers for anxiety, has hated us for sending him, and is now overwhelmed with the pointlessness of life. I appreciate the timliness of this article, but was left wondering….then what? Having that person to talk to…is that all it takes? Where does one go from that point in order to continue the pathway to healing and to save a child?

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Hey Sigmund

Chris this sounds like such a distressing time for your family. You have done the right thing getting your son professional support. It is difficult to know what your son needs and it is very likely that he doesn’t know himself. This is why having someone for him to talk to is so important. Therapy will help your son to explore what might be contributing to his pain and help him to find what he needs to move forward. Love and strength to you and your family.

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Anne R

Chris, your situation is shockingly like ours with our son. We are in the process of trying to figure out “what now” also. It is so difficult to navigate a pathway forward after having done all the things we thought would brig hope and healing to our son. Instead, seemed to deepen the depreasion and anxiety, and annihilate our relationship with him. We are going all out to repair trust and relationship first and foremost. Will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

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HisMom

Thank you to you and all the school counselors who work tirelessly with our youth. This could have been my child you were talking to. I am so thankful he had a counselor to talk to – and sought him out – when he was having suicidal ideations.
Please take any child/youth/person seriously when they talk of suicide. They are asking for help.

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Carol

My son 20 years old has been suffering from anxiet. He moved in with his dad and new step mom. they were up north and my son had his sister (same dad) stop over as he was in the middle of a anxiety episode. His dad told him not to have anyone over. When hid dad came home he woke my son up and told him to get out and take all his stuff cause he lied and disobeyed and had his sister over. She was there for an hour. He called me from his car with all his clothes piled in back seat. He is in 2nd year of college getting good grades and works as a shift lead. He is a humble well liked young man by my 9 sisters and 3 brothers many friends and a good support system on my side of family. I am here for him but how can a father do this to a son and call it “tough love” Where do I start over after all he”s been through. He saved money bought a car with cash and is responsible. Any advice appreciated.

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Hey Sigmund

Your son sounds like a wonderful young man. Let him know that you are there for him and if you believe the treatment was unfair, let your son know that. It would also be worth chatting to him about what he (your son) might have been able to have done differently, or what he might be able to do now. It is impossible to say without knowing all of the details, but what he needs to hear is that whatever happened, it is no measure of the young man he is or the person he is growing into. If his dad is making him doubt his self worth, your son needs to hear a different point of view, and you can give him that. It is difficult to understand the way some parents show love, but it doesn’t mean his dad doesn’t love him. Let your son know this. His dad will have all sorts of reasons for doing what he did – his own history and insecurities? pressure from home? – who knows – we can only speculate, but the point is that none of those reasons are likely to have anything to do with the man your son is, anything he did, or how much his father loves him. The most important thing is that your son is able to see the response as an over-reaction if that’s what it was, and not a reflection on the amazing man your son is.

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