Let's face it, being an adolescent/young adult in today's world is tough. Navigating hormones, identity, relationships, education, life transitions, and even world events like a pandemic can work havoc on the mental health of our youth. Being aware of the signs of stress and suicidal ideation is crucial for all of us with loved ones who are in their adolescent life stage.
Is suicide really a problem?
Here are a few facts from the JED Foundation about current suicide statistics (https://jedfoundation.org/mental-health-and-suicide-statistics/):
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in individuals 10-34 years old.
36.7% of high school students reported feelings of hopelessness.
18.8% of high school students reported serious contemplation of suicide.
8.9% of high school students have attempted suicide in the past year.
26.9% of 12-17 year old are reported to have one or more mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems.
(For additional information on suicide statistics within the US, see references).
Obviously, suicide is a serious concern for our adolescents, but what causes these thoughts? Life can't be that bad, can it?
What's going on up there?
The development of the teen brain.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (www.aacap.com) to understand adolescent and teen responses, we have to look at brain development.
During this state of development, a part of the brain called the amygdala has reached full development. The amygdala is in control of immediate reactions. Those sudden impulses that you've noticed in your child and teen? That's the amygdala at work.
At this point, the frontal cortex of the
brain has not fully developed. The frontal cortex is in charge of reasoning.
It's the area that allows us to think through situations and predict consequences. That's right, your kid can literally be ruled by their impulses.
Who am I?
Additionally, as if brain development wasn't enough to contend with, adolescents are also going through a stage of development that psychologist Eric Erickson called identity vs. role confusion.
According to VeryWellMind.com, Erickson believed that there are 8 life stages that everyone has to work through. In each stage, the person must overcome a conflict. At this stage, the conflict to overcome is identity. In other words, your teen is trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in social relationships.
Nothing complicated, right? Right...
Factors of Teen Stress
Now that you understand what's going on in your teen's head, let's look at the causes for your teen's stress. RaisingChildren.net.au offers an interesting list of teen stressors:
Relationships As I mentioned, teens are trying to figure out their place in the world. Teens begin to test their independents from parental relationships while placing more importance on other social relationships. Through a teen's eyes, These relationships are considered the most important aspect of life at this point, and therefore, can have powerful negative or positive impacts depending on the path they take and the resilience of your teen.
School During our children's first years of life, we strive to give them a consistent, comfortable environment, this changes when they begin school. Teachers, lessons, subjects, classrooms, etc. change constantly from year to year. How does this affect our children? Additionally, education can be another stressor with powerful impacts. Each exam can seem like the prediction of success or failure in life.
Life Events All of us are affected by life changes, divorce, relocation, employment, new babies, illnesses, or trauma. These events impact our teen's perceptions as well.
World Events In the last few years, we've seen how our society can be affected by sickness, war, political conflict, etc. These events also affect the way our teens think and feel and their beliefs about themselves and the world.
Stressed vs. Suicidal
How do you tell when stress turns into more than just stress? The signs of stress and suicidality are very similar and do overlap. However, VeryWellMind.com offers a significant list to help determine when stress turns into hopelessness and purposelessness in the eyes of your adolescent. This is a sign that you're entering suicidal territory.
Signs of Stress include
Headaches & stomachaches
Changes in socialization
Negative changes in behavior
General sense of worry
Signs of Suicide
Thoughts of suicide or dying, threatening to hurt self, writing about dying, looking for ways to hurt self
Substance use (alcohol or drugs)
Purposelessness, no reason to live
Feelings of being trapped in circumstances
Withdrawal from social connections and activities
Feelings of anger, rage, or need for revenge
Recklessness and impulsivity
What can I do?
First, you must know the warning signs for suicide, the above list is a helpful tool, but only includes general symptoms of suicidal thoughts. If you suspect your adolescent is actively suicidal it's important that you contact a professional or a suicide hotline.
Be aware of warning signs
Contact the national suicide hotline (988), pediatrician, psychiatrist, or emergency room
Remove/limit access to guns and medication
Seek professional help when symptoms of depression & anxiety are present
If you suspect that you or your loved one is suffering from anxiety or depression, we at Tides Therapy are here to help. Contact us today.