Why do they feel like giving up?

Last week I attended a seminar to learn about the updated statistics of mental health with teenagers and how to help them in the school environment.  One of the first statistics I became aware of was that suicide had moved to one of the  leading causes of death for teen girls.  In addition, suicide has increased 200% from 1999 to 2014 for girls ages 10 to 14. Since that day it has not left my mind.   I’ve read numerous articles, listened to TED talks, and have watched many teen girls I’m surrounded by on a daily basis and I keep wondering why?  Then today happened.  During a day that was full of excitement we took our daughter to Ohio State to participate in a dorm open house that would help her decide where she may want to live.  The campus was buzzing and full of energy for a Monday morning. We had been to the Union twice already that day when we were headed back to get our car, we found we could not enter the parking garage because a young female student had jumped from the third story.  Why?  What in the world is going on?

With regards to wanting to find out why this has increased so much, I’m learning there are so many factors that may be influencing these teens to want to give up.  From puberty happening earlier for girls to social media use and drastic changes in family dynamics, it causes me to have even more concern for girls today.  I see daily that life as a teenager can be very difficult.  It is a very unsettled, anxiety producing time of their lives.  The pressure they feel to perform well and balance so many commitments often makes me wonder how they keep it all together.  So many situations teens struggle with feel out of their control and I often question if these teens that attempt suicide see it as a way to escape the pressure and pain.  Many situations that adults struggle with also affect teenagers in the same way.  These situations mixed with teens feeling like they can do nothing about it can cause them to turn to suicide for a way out.  Divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse, and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in their homes are situations teens are dealing with that may lead them to consider suicide, especially teens who have very little support networks.

Another large area that affects teens is social media and while there are many positive aspects of the use of social media it also has the potential to negatively affect our teens.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens are using social media an average of seven and a half hours a day.  To me, that is alarming.  Our teens are spending seven hours a day at school and many average over seven hours a day on social media sites.  Honestly, I had no idea it was to that degree.  Also, teens who are the heaviest users of social media, report not only being bored and sad, but report being bullied online.  In addition, a link between cyberbullying  and higher levels of depression and anxiety have been found.  To make matters more concerning, cyberbullying has been connected to more cases of suicide than traditional bullying.

Most importantly, I believe it is necessary to be aware of the signs teens show that tell us they are struggling.  I’m a big believer in being available to listen to teens.  Not to lecture and rant about what they “should” be doing or how they “should” be feeling, but listening to understand.  I’m convinced they need more adults to listen with our mouths closed.  And while that may seem harsh, I believe it is more true every day.  These are the signs that indicate that our teens may be in trouble:

  • isolating or withdrawing from friends and family
  • no interest in their personal appearance
  • difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • changes in eating – weight gain or weight loss
  • not enjoying activities that they once enjoyed
  • physical symptoms – headaches, upset stomach, feeling tired often
  • sadness and feeling hopeless
  • changes in their personality
  • drug and/or alcohol use

If you notice your teen has been struggling with any of these indicators, acknowledge what you are noticing with your teen and sit with them and listen.  Reach out to your school counselor, a pastor, mentor, physician, or someone that you and your teen trust and get help.  Our involvement is becoming so critical in helping to save their lives.