Recently a 16-year-old young man from our ward hung himself. It was a horrendous shock for everyone, as this was a handsome, well-liked boy. The young man’s family began immediately to say that it was an accidental death, but it was ruled a suicide by the coroner. Why does someone do something like this? Does the method of suicide give any clues? This apparently happened in a closet, and it was not a long closet. He REALLY wanted to end his life and it must have been a horrendous death. I appreciate any insight you may have on this issue in general.
I am so very sorry to hear about this tremendous loss. Suicide is always an immense tragedy and leaves everyone in its midst reeling in grief, confusion, frustration, anger, guilt and loss.
Adolescents tend to be impulsive and elusive in nature – a part of their normal developmental stage. Unfortunately these traits can make it difficult to recognize suicidal “warning signs” or behaviors. Often parents and other adults/teachers can be completely blind-sighted when a teen suicide occurs. Unless a specific letter or message has been left, it can be difficult to understand the “why.” Teens often come across problems they don’t know how to solve or able to confide to another (i.e. an unwanted pregnancy, homosexual tendencies, bad grades, a breakup from a significant other, being bullied, sexual assault, abusive home environment, addiction, etc. etc.). Suicide can also bet the worst case scenario of one suffering from an ongoing mental health disorder such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and/or substance addiction.
Hangings are becoming a more used method of suicide, especially among adolescent girls. Firearms are still the most used method among males. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens. For every successful attempt, it is estimated that there are 10 unsuccessful attempts. Males are usually more successful in first-time attempts than females due to the methods usually chosen (i.e. firearms vs overdose).
A site on teen depression states: “In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year. As many as 8 out of 10 teens who commit suicide try to ask for help in some way before committing suicide, such as by seeing a doctor shortly before the suicide attempt.”
On a side note, there is a relatively new fad amongst teens and young adults of getting high through suffocation called “the choking game.” Hangings are one method to achieve the lack of oxygen to the brain that causes the high sought after. Many times this can result in an unintended death that can be deemed suicide when in reality it wasn’t. I’m not trying to suggest that this was the case here, but it is important for parents to be aware of this practice. It is important that we discuss these types of issues with our teens so they realize we are aware of the things occurring in their world. “Choking Game” Proves Deadly for Kids and Teens is an article covering this issue more at length.
When anything like this happens in our ward, our school, or elsewhere in our community, it is vital that we have some very frank and open discussions with our own children – even the younger ones. They will hear others talking about what has occurred whether we speak to them or not. This needs to be a time when children can get input and information from their parents and where parents can get a glimpse into their children’s lives that otherwise may not have been possible. Copycat suicides can happen (especially if the teen was a role model or looked up to in some way) and this intensifies the need for us to be having a discussion.
It is important to reiterate to our children that no matter what they are up against, they can come to us for help. There may be consequences to incorrect behaviors, but anything is solvable! As a working team (identify yourselves as that) you can come up with solutions to help them get through whatever they need help with. We need to recognize as Mormon parents that we have very high expectations of our teens. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to undue pressure to perform and teens can be left feeling overwhelmed, unworthy and unable to go to their parents because of fear to disappoint or fear of punishment. This is a difficult balancing act that all parents face.
Mayo Clinic has some useful information regarding the grieving process after a suicide has occurred.
Suicide is a comprehensive article listing statistics, warning signs, etc.
Have you had any personal or community experience with suicide you are comfortable sharing?
Do you see a connection between high LDS expectations and potential for suicide risk?
What do we make of the fact that suicide rates in Utah are higher than the national average?
What parenting advice do you have on striking a good balance between having high expectations and having loving acceptance in light of error and mistakes?
Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist. She blogs at mormontherapist.blogspot.com.