In a recent study into the matter of leading causes of death in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death for children and teenagers. Once considered to be a rare consequence of untreated mental disorders, the rise of this preventable condition has been nothing but shocking. Although news coverage may not reflect this epidemic properly, the facts are scary – from under 30,000 deaths of children in 1996 to over 47,000 registered deaths in 2017.
A Generation in Crisis
What are the contributors to this state of mind that is leading thousands of children on a monthly basis onto the path of self-harm? What can cause a young person with infinite potential to take his own life? What responsibility do parents have in resolving this? What definite steps will change this course? These are the few burning questions that beg to be answered. Rising teenage deaths by suicide indicate that the modern conditions under which our society is structured are simply not good enough.
In Dallas County, the suicide rate for individuals aged 10 to 24 years increased 79% from 2015 to 2016 – in one year! Between 2008 and 2015, rates of children attending hospitals and emergency rooms for suicidal tendencies or self-harm issues almost doubled. As of 2016, suicide became the second-leading cause of death in the US. Why are rates of suicide amongst teenagers increasing? There are several factors.
A lot of theoretical models propose the idea that integration with others is a precautionary factor for suicide amongst teenagers. This has been extensively reinforced by research findings.
In a joint research conducted by noted psychologists like RL Walker, Wingate and T.E. Joiner, factors such as acculturative stress, cultural/ethnic identity, and body image were all shown to be moderators for depression and self-harming ideation in university students.
The teenagers who are prone to being deceased by suicide usually go through a period where they lose a sense of belonging and an inclination to withdrawing from their immediate surroundings. Most of the studies in this field are focused exclusively on connectivity and social relationships. The degree to which people adapt to new cultural shifts (inability for enculturation) also plays a significant role in suicidal behavior. We will dive into more details below.
A Variety Of Factors That Matter
A Rapid Shift in Parenting Roles
Modern families are under a lot of stress. This influences rates of depression-related behavioral disorders – the key diagnosis in patients with suicidal tendencies. Rapid changes in lifestyle demands add to the seclusion and anxiety that too many suffer from. Parents have to learn along the way as there really is no precedent for raising children in this age of technology. The indoctrination of American youngsters from extremely early ages into the digital universe is a natural and unchecked phenomenon. No other generation in history has ever had this much access to digital data and devices, and parents at times have too much rapidly changing, conflicting advice on the best way to parent.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, every year 25% of Americans aged 18-25 years and about 13% of American children (aged 8-15 years) are diagnosed with a mental disorder. Some of the most common mental disorders prevalent in teenagers include –
- Depression – Affects 25% of the population aged 8-25 years
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – 5%-11% the child population suffers from this affliction
- Substance Abuse Disorders (Addiction) – 10% of the population aged 8-25 years suffers from some form of substance abuse
- Bipolar Disorder –2%-3% of the population aged 8-25 years suffers from this
This study by the National Institute of Mental Health also stated that since there is more awareness of these disorders, parents are becoming more inclined to turning to medical centers to register their child for suicidal or self-harming tendencies. As parents are not being able to handle these situations on their own due to factors such as financial or time constraints, more and more teens are getting referred to emergency centers for these events.
Body Image Issues
In a study conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health, students from 134 schools in 50 states were surveyed. Participants were questioned about the thought of committing suicide and how they recognized their body image. Researchers noted that suicidal ideation were more extreme in the students who perceived themselves to be overweight as compared to those who didn’t (18% more in children suffering from obesity). Even after modifying variables as age, ethnicity, etc the data was clear– suicidal ideation was prevalent in children who perceived themselves to be obese.
Girls over the age of 10 showed much more propensity to such tendencies as compared to boys. 2015 saw the rate of suicide among adolescent girls rise to the highest it has ever been since 1975 (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). There is strong evidence to suggest that perceived body-image negativity is a key factor in the increase in teen deaths caused by suicide.
It is no secret that mental health is not properly understood and as such, carries a stigma with it in our society. Many people still believe depression is simply “feeling bad” and those who suffer it just need to get over it. There is much ignorance when it comes to the brain chemistry tied to depression which leads to people who actually have depression not getting the proper care whether it’s from them believing they should get over it or out of fear of the judgement they will receive if they come forward.
Unlimited Access to Cell Phones and Social Media
Unchecked online activities are a natural by-product of parents offering nonstop accesses to their children into the world of cell phone use. In a study published by the American Journal of Public Health, this phenomenon has vastly contributed to unfortunate shift in behavioral patterns in much of America’s youth. Thus, social media can provide a hostile platform for inappropriate interactions with others, particularly for our young people. These mediums cut personal interaction, hinder education regarding satisfactory social norms, and wreak outright maltreatment on some, such as teenagers being imperiled to cyber bullying. In recent surveys published by the American Journal of Public Health, it was revealed that 34% of youth reported incidents of being cyber bullied. In this study, bullying was also cited as a vital factor in cases of students being mentally compelled into committing acts of self-harm.
Cautionary Signs and Symptoms of Depression
A few of the main symptoms that a depressed child might show include
- Sadness or despondency in their attitude – If your bright child is suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of gloom and is forcing him or herself into a fixed lifestyle that entails limited conversation – that is a major sign that something is not right.
- Irritability and hostility – Acting out for no reason, being irritated at the slightest of things. The child resolving to arguments instead of conversations in order to get their suppressed emotions across.
- Withdrawal from friends – Sudden shift in behavior towards old friends, family members, etc.
- Loss of interest in day to day activities such as family dinners, etc.
- Poor academic performance – Parents often complain that their child’s grades have suddenly plummeted. How can a child who was so bright just the previous year do so poorly this year? An open conversation and consulting a child psychologist can go a long way as opposed to mere punishments.
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Constant restlessness and anxiety
- Feelings of unimportance in the family
- Expressions of guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Unexplained body aches and pains
- Tendency to stay in bed all day instead of leaving the house
In a 2014 study entitled ‘The Invisible Addiction’, author J. Roberts stated that high-school and college students were spending more than 9 hours every day on their cell phones. Even if parents keep an eye on their child’s social media profiles, majority of children still use texting for communication. If your child goes to sleep with their cell phone by their side and it’s the first thing they touch in the morning, it is clearly an addiction. Government can’t halt these activities or the probable outcomes of those choices that almost every other teenager is making. This must be addressed at a grassroots level – American parents, concerned individuals, family members, schools, and local communities, all need to take conclusive steps in order to recognize and address these problems.
How Parents Can Prevent Teen Suicide
Teenagers can find it hard to admit that they are suffering from depression. There is a complete lack of communication and rationalization about this issue in our society.
- Learn to detect and avert (or reduce) “triggers.” Catch on to what perplexes or makes your child uneasy.
- Establish a routine of communication.
- Give your child a sense of acceptance. Don’t give them complicated choices. Show consideration for your child’s decisions.
- If your child suffers from a physical condition like obesity, address the issue. In a study conducted by The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, it was revealed that the more obese an adolescent, the higher the risk of major depression in him/her. (20% for boys and 30% for girls).
- Never take your child’s actions personally.
- Try to stay composed. Listen to their outbursts. Do not scream or show anger. Children see aggression as a threat to their personal space. Give in and communicate.
If a teenager you know is expressing any of the mentioned symptoms, the first step would be to communicate with them, letting them know about the changes in behavior you have observed. In most cases teenagers crave the feeling of their parent or sibling listening to their problems. If you are doubtful about their actions and they may be suicidal, immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). Seek immediate professional help.
Battling the Ills of Technology with Technology
The best way to keep an eye on your child without necessarily invading their privacy is to install a parental control app on their phones. By doing so, parents can be alerted about red flags without having to go through their child’s day to day digital activities.
MMGuardian is such an app designed to help parents protect children through the power of Artificial Intelligence. It offers a unique feature called “Priority Alerts”. After automatically scanning text messages sent to and from the child’s phone, together with their internet browsing practices, the app senses possible bullying, suicidal warning signs, and other such concerning content. Once an indication of any such activity has been sensed, the parents get an automatic alert directly to their phones. This allows parents to have peace of mind knowing MMGuardian is looking out for their children without the parent having to go through their phone on a daily basis, not to mention the variety of other features such as app blocking, time limits, contact blocking, location retrieval, inappropriate picture detection, detailed reporting, and more.
To get started with MMGuardian and receive a 14-day free trial, click here.
Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.
The bottom line is that tackling issues of teen suicide and associated societal problems has to be a partnership between government bodies, parents and technology itself. Modern problems require modern solutions and parents need to be prepared to take every step possible to guarantee the safety of their child.