Of all the symptoms and side effects that life’s struggles can leave someone dealing with, none are more dangerous than suicide. And although suicide is an often hidden problem – a silent crisis shrouded in secrecy and seldom spoken about – suicidal ideation is also alarmingly common. In just about every survey, at least 10% of the population has seriously considered suicide at one time or another, and it’s estimated that at least 5 million living Americans have survived a suicide attempt. Another 765,000 Americans join these ranks each year after making an unsuccessful attempt to take their own life.
Suicide rates among children & teens
Suicide attempts can be especially common among teens and adolescents, and suicidal thoughts among this age group are even more common still. Surveys reveal that up to 10% of middle and high school students have either thought about or attempted suicide, and rates of suicidal ideation among at-risk groups (such as bullied youth) reach as high as 50% or 60%. Worse yet, youth suicide rates continue to climb. As William Damon writes, “Thirty years ago, our adolescent suicide rate was 3 per 100,000, already high by traditional global standards. Now it is 11 young people per 100,000, while adult rates have stayed pretty much the same. A 1993 survey found that 20 percent of high school students had made a plan to commit suicide, and that half of these students had made an actual attempt. The study also reported that these percentages had doubled in just three years. After accidents, suicide is now the leading cause of youthful death in our society.” (Damon, 1995, p. 10)
Families in crisis also fall into this high-risk category. Whether the crisis is a divorce, financial struggles, domestic abuse or a dysfunctional family setting, experiencing any type of ongoing turmoil can wear a person down and cause them to lose hope in life, potentially leading to suicidal thoughts. So it’s quite possible that someone you love, whether it be a child or spouse or friend or family member, is either struggling with suicidal thoughts in the present or has at some point in their life in the past. If so, this information will help you better deal with this sensitive and dangerous topic.
Depression, hopelessness & suicidal thoughts
Depression and suicidal thoughts often go hand in hand. Psychiatrist David Burns, M.D., notes that “In a study of seventh- and eight-grade students in a suburban Philadelphia parochial school, nearly one-third of the youngsters were significantly depressed and had suicidal thoughts. Even infants who undergo maternal separation can develop a depressive syndrome in which failure to thrive and even self-imposed death from starvation can result.” (Burns, 1980, p. 337)
Notice to readers:
For those who are dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, we offer information and advice on coping with loss in our Death & Bereavement book.
Non-suicidal self-injury is also becoming more common, especially among children and youth. This can range from simple acts of frustration, such as a child banging their head against the wall repeatedly, to more complex behaviors such as cutting or scarification. We offer information that will help parents understand why kids injure themselves and offer advice to help them address these symptoms in our section on self-injury.
More information on youth suicide: