Every year, approximately 65,000 Australians attempt to take their own lives. And of that number, 2500 actually do. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s all about taking the time to recognise suicide warning signs and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help.
This is a post by Dannielle Miller, who is the CEO of Enlighten Education – a group that provides in-school workshops for teen girls on body image, self-esteem and empowerment. Dannielle writes:
All of us at Enlighten have been heartbroken to see a number of media reports recently of teens taking their own lives. Cath Manning, one of Enlighten’s Victoria workshop presenters, is concerned about the high rates of depression and suicide in her area. Interviewed along with Steve Biddulph this week by her local media, Cath made this great point:
“I think we sometimes forget that teen girls are going through the same things we went through when we were growing up, however, today there is even more pressure on them due to the relentless media images and messages they are bombarded with, and the added complications with social media. Of course, social media is here to stay, and there really are great benefits that come with that, but young girls just need to be given the tools to engage with the medium in a positive, helpful way.”
Positive — that’s the key. There are positive things we can all do to help our kids cope. We can listen and look for the signs that all may not be well in their world, and we can offer our support. Due to the recent media coverage of teen suicides, a lot of parents and teachers have been asking my advice, so this seems a good time to share an excerpt from my book for parents, The Butterfly Effect, on how to identify and help teen girls in crisis.
Suicide warning signs:
These pointers are adapted from the Victorian Government’s excellent ‘Youth suicide prevention – the warning signs’.
- Loss of interest in activities she used to enjoy
- Giving away her prized possessions
- Thoroughly cleaning her room and throwing out important things
- Violent or rebellious behaviour
- Running away from home
- Substance abuse
- Taking no interest in her clothes or appearance
- A sudden, marked personality change
- Withdrawal from friends, family and her usual activities
- A seeming increase in her accident proneness, or signs of self-harm
- A change in eating and sleeping patterns
- A drop in school performance, due to decreased concentration and feelings of boredom
- Frequent complaints about stomach aches, headaches, tiredness and other symptoms that may be linked to emotional upsets
- Rejection of praise or rewards
- Verbal hints such as ‘I won’t be a problem for you much longer’ or ‘Nothing matters anyway’
- Suddenly becoming cheerful after a period of being down, which may indicate she has made a resolution to take her life
What many people who try to take their lives share is a sense of being trapped in a stressful or painful situation, a situation that they are powerless to change. Having depression or a mental illness raises a person’s risk of suicide. Stressful life events or ongoing stressful situations may fuel feelings of desperation or depression that can lead to suicide attempts.
Examples of these stresses include the death of a loved one, divorce or a relationship breakup, a child custody dispute, settling in to a blended family, financial trouble, or a serious illness or accident. Any kind of abuse – physical, verbal or sexual – increases the risk. Substance abuse by any member of a family affects the other members of the family and can lead to suicidal feelings either directly or indirectly, through the loss of income and social networks or trouble with the law.
Bullying needs to be taken seriously as it has been known to make teens try to take their own life. Also, teens are right in the middle of forming their own individual identities and a major component of that is their sexuality. For a teenager who is questioning their sexual preference or gender, the pressure to be like everyone else, the taunting they receive because they clearly are not, or their own guilt and confusion can become unbearable. A relationship breakup can be a trigger for suicide in some teens.