Each year, more than 44,000 Americans die by suicide. For teens—the population I work with—suicide is the second leading cause of death. My focus, year round, is on creating the most effective and compassionate treatment program to prevent troubled teens from engaging in self-harming behaviors and to help them find meaning, purpose, and pleasure in life again.
This week, during National Suicide Prevention Week, I hope all of us around the country are focusing on this issue and what we can do about it.
For most of us, the best place to start is close to home. If you have friends, family members, or other loved ones you’re worried about, there are ways to recognize whether they are at risk for self-harm and/or considering a suicide attempt. Here are some of the warning signs:
- Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die.
- Feeling hopeless or trapped.
- Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol.
- Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits.
- Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm.
- Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends.
- Searching online for methods of committing suicide.
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye and giving away prized possessions.
- Trouble concentrating and/or a drop in academic performance.
- Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior.
- Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.
If you see any of these signs, it’s vital to take action to make sure your friend or family member gets the help they need.
If your loved one is in a crisis situation, here's what we recommend:
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including ﬁrearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
In addition, I encourage you to advocate—at any time of the year—for greater awareness around this issue. Teachers, parents, and other family members, mental-health professionals, media sources, school systems, and government entities can all play a role in increasing education and support services designed to prevent suicide. Together, we can create change and hope.