by Joan Goodman LCSW-C, (301) 881-0433, JBGOODMAN1@aol.com
Every year sports fans eagerly await “March Madness,” when 65 college basketball teams compete to determine one national champion. Meanwhile, another phenomenon is simultaneously occurring in the world of adolescents. In springtime, the rates of adolescent depression, self-injury, and suicide reach their peak.
The term ‘March Madness’ seems to capture the overwhelming sense of desperation that many adolescents feel each spring. Many feel ill-equipped to cope with the accumulating stresses in their life as they also face the mounting academic pressures that come with the remaining quarter of the school year. This rising crescendo culminates in a state of crisis, causing many adolescents to attempt to take matters into their own hands by acting impulsively and often in a self-destructive manner. This emotional tidal wave recedes with the ending of the academic year in June.
It is generally believed that the holiday season is the time of year when the rates of depression and suicide are at its highest. This tends to be true for adults, but less so for the population of adolescents and young adults. The multimillion dollar question then becomes, “Why spring?” There is no single answer to this disturbing and perplexing question.
Isn’t spring supposed to be the season of rebirth and rejuvenation, as well as the time when love and romance are in the air? After struggling through the darkness of winter, the budding daffodils begin peeking up through the frozen ground; the barren trees come back to life before our eyes. With this magnificent metamorphous surrounding us, aren’t we all reminded that a new life should be coming, and with it a sense of hope?
What if the adolescent’s hopes of changing, of feeling better, and of falling in love are unfulfilled? Rejections and dashed hopes could trigger those who have been just holding on by their fingertips to lose their grasp and to fall. Since many adolescents and young adults mistakenly compare their own inner feelings to how their peers appear to be feeling, depressed youth could then feel alienated and alone in their pain as they look around and assume that everyone else is happy while they are not. Being unable to cope, and desperately wanting their pain to go away, thoughts of self-injury or suicide can become their solution.
Statistics reveal that approximately 2000 teenagers and young adults complete suicide each year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in this age group.
Data from 1999 indicate that 19.3% of high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide, 14.5% had made plans to attempt suicide, and 8.3% had made a suicide attempt during the year preceding the survey. Each year, 1100 college students commit suicide, while a college student contemplates suicide in the US, on average, once every 10 seconds. There are no exact numbers for the hidden problem of self-injury, but anonymous surveys among college students indicate that 17% of them have self injured, and experts suggest that self-injury is practiced by 15% of the adolescent population.
Of worldwide school shootings since 1996, 29 out of the 52 episodes occurred between the dates of February 1st- June 30th. It was April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado when 17 year old Dylan Klebold and 18 year old Eric Harris, after plotting for a year to blow up their school, shot and killed 12 students, one teacher, and wounded 23 others in an hour long rampage before they then shot themselves. And more recently, on April 16, 2007 in Blacksburg, Virginia at Virginia Tech, 23 year old student Cho Seung-Hui’s shooting rampage and his culminating suicide killed 33 people and wounded 15, making it the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Those of us working with young people know that we need to prepare for the onslaught of emotional distress that takes over their lives each spring. We need to raise the larger society’s awareness of March Madness, just as we are aware of yearly changes in the weather.
More people survive suicide attempts than die as a result
Over 37,000 people commit suicide each year
Suicide was the 11th leading cause of death overall in 2005: 2nd leading cause for ages 25-34 3rd leading cause for ages 10-14 and 15-24 4th leading cause for ages 35-44 5th leading cause for ages 45-54 8th leading cause for ages 55-64
For every 100,000 person in the general population, 10.9 commit suicide: 1.3 out of 100,000 for ages 10-14 8.2 out of 100,000 for ages 15-19 12.5 out of 100,000 for ages 20-24 14.3 out of 100,000 for ages 65+ (well above national average)
The leading cause of death for suicides is by firearm, followed by suffocation and poisoning.
90% of suicides in the United States are associated with mental illness, including disorders involving the abuse of alcohol and other drugs
50% of those who die by suicide were afflicted with major depression, and the suicide rate of people with major depression is eight times that of the general population
3 times more women attempt suicide than men, however men are 4 times more likely than women to die as a result
In 2007, 14.5% of U.S. high school students reported seriously considering suicide. 6.9% reported making at least one suicide attempt, almost 1/3 of which resulted in serious injury.
Data from 1999 indicate that 19.3% of high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide, 14.5% had made plans to attempt suicide, and 8.3% had made a suicide attempt during the year preceding the survey.
Each year, 1100 college students commit suicide, while a college student contemplates suicide in the US, on average, once every 10 seconds.
Depression, mental disorders, or physical illness
Easy access to firearms
Drug and/or alcohol abuse
History if mental disorders in oneself or in the family
History of suicide attempts in oneself or in the family
History of violence and abuse in oneself or in the family
Limited or no access to mental health assistance
Exposure to suicidal behavior and local epidemics of suicide
Stress and recent loss in addition to other risk factors can increase the chance of suicide but is not noted as a risk factor by itself
Increased drug and alcohol abuse
Feelings of hopelessness and depression
Isolation and withdrawal
Impulsive and/or aggressive behavior
Anxiety, sleep and mood changes
Recklessness and involvement in risky activities
Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
How to Help
If someone you know is in immediate danger ACT NOW. Make sure they are not left alone and call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
The most important thing you can do for someone is to talk to them as soon as possible. Many people are afraid to confront a friend about the issue of suicide, however talking, listening, and showing concern is the best thing you can do. Here are some tips about how to talk to a friend or loved one in need:
DO: Meet in a private place where you both feel comfortable
DO: Tell your friend specifically what worrying behaviors you have observed (i.e. "I feel really concerned because I've noticed that you haven't been eating or sleeping and you talk about suicide.")
DO: Listen considerately to how you friend responds. Some people may become defensive and deny that they have a problem. They may say that you cannot help them or that there is no way out of their situation. In this case, you may want to talk to someone else about getting your friend more help. By telling someone else about your friend's problem, you are doing the best possible thing for your friend, especially since they may require professional help.
DO: Respond in a non-threatening, sensitive manner.
DO: Offer your support and present advice by giving your friend suggestions on where to turn for more help. (i.e support groups or professionals)
DO: Be sure to care for yourself as well. It is important to be aware of your own health while helping a friend or loved one.
DO NOT: Keep your friend's suicidal thought a secret, even if you promised them. Telling a trusted adult or professional about your friend's problem is the best way to help them. If your friend is in immediate danger call 911 or the suicide hotline (1-800-272-TALK)
DO NOT: Respond to your friend criticism (i.e. "You sound crazy")
DO NOT: Think that their mental health with improve on it's own. Instead show your concern and offer them means of getting additional help.
DO NOT: Offer your friend a simple solution (i.e. "You would feel better if you just...")
Frequently Asked Questions
Information obtained from: Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control American Association of Suicidology MPowerYouth.org ActiveMinds.org
Food-4-Thought Inc. is a Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Raising Awareness About Teen Depression and Suicide, 'One Conversation At A Time'.