Amanda Gaffney, who was then a 12-year-old minor, expressed in an interview for the American Psychological Association (APA) how her “mind was heavy with the feeling of profound isolation.” At times, Amanda also had waves of thoughts such as “I wish I were dead.” Like Amanda, many teens and youth in the U.S. experience thoughts about harming or killing themselves, often worsened by the already-problematic social media used in this group (APA, 2023). Therefore, it is vital to talk about suicide and not make it a “taboo,” as stigmatizing or avoiding the topic is ineffective in reducing it. We provide tips to talk to teens and youth about suicide effectively.
Know The Facts
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens aged 15 to 24 in the United States. The number of suicides has been increasing each year due to a lack of resources for underserved communities, such as the Rio Grande Valley. Other facts about suicide include:
- An 8% increase in suicides among males 15-24 years old in 2021 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], 2022)
- School returning to in-person schooling is associated with a 12 to 18% increase in teen suicide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022)
- About 1 in every five teens in the U.S. experience serious thoughts about harming or killing themselves (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2023)
- Nearly 1 in every 10 teens in the U.S. has attempted suicide (NIMH, 2023)
- Minority and LGBTQ+ teens and youth are at even higher risk for suicide (NIMH, 2023)
- Social media used in teens and youth has been found harmful and a contributor to depression and self-harm/suicide in minors (APA, 2023)
You can help teens and youth by identifying risks, such as:
- Having depression
- Conflict or loss of a family member.
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Problems with substances like alcohol or drugs
- Victim of bullying
- Uncertainty of their sexual orientation
- Family history of suicide
On the other hand, it is also vital to recognize signs of suicide. Some signs of suicide include:
- Feeling hopeless
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing regular routines such as eating or sleeping
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Withdrawing from social contact
- Making statements about taking your life
- Searching suicide methods
Ways to Help
If you notice patterns of these signs in a teen or youth, you may follow the following tips below. However, seeking help from a licensed mental health practitioner is vital, as suicidality is highly treatable using science-driven interventions.
- Express concern over the situation, open directly to the topic of suicide, can make the teen feel more comfortable with the topic.
- Keep a connection with teenagers. Often ask simple questions about their day, their connection with friends or family, and how they feel throughout the day.
- Be understanding and do not dismiss their signs or complaints.
- Talk to them about the risks of social media; chat with your teen/youth about how social media may trigger mental health symptoms. You may find more information about social media and minors’ mental health at the Online Safety Act and APA advocacy efforts at apaservices.org/advocacy/news/kids-online-safety-legislation.
A message to the public
Amanda received professional help; now, as an adult, she is a product manager at a mental health company. Like Amanda, many teens and youth may experience these symptoms and witness improvement in their well-being and life. Despite the severity and sensitivity of this topic, we encourage RGV families to talk about suicide and mental health with the younger generations. Mental health services in the RGV are available in English and Spanish and at low-cost/sliding fee scales. You and your family are not alone.
National Suicide Prevention – 988
Tropical Texas Behavioral Health Hotline (956) 1-877-289-7199
South Texas Behavioral Health Center, call (956) 388-1300
Mental Health Services
Tropical Texas Behavioral Health (Appointments) 1-800-813-1233
UTRGV Psychology Clinic / Clinica de Psicología (956) 665-8800
(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Alejandra Amaro, Andy Torres, Frances Morales, & Amanda Palomin)