By Danessa Allen
As many people know, suicide is a growing problem in today’s youth. It’s not only a problem in Colorado, but all over the country. Even though many people see the problem, and as a teen that’s been to a treatment center not once, but twice, I understand the depth of the issue. In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, and roughly 45,000 people die from suicide every year. On average, 121 people commit suicide every day. Surprisingly, in Colorado, between the years of 2008-2012, the age group of 45-54 had the highest number of suicides with 1,044 total. The age group 15-24 is the 5th highest suicide rate in Colorado. Colorado is the 7th highest ranked in the nation for suicides, but amongst the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death of people between the ages of 10-24, and the numbers keep rising.
As the numbers of suicides in the United States continue to flourish among young people, many questions of why this is happening are coming up now more than ever. Why are this many people committing suicide at such a young age? Why are these kids so upset? Why don’t they just get help? All of these questions need to be answered, but the answers are far more complex that people believe them to be. The answer to the first question is almost unanswerable. Every person has a different reason or reasons for completing suicide, and I do not believe that adults in today’s society understand how much pressure that youth in the United States are actually under. It’s harder than most adults understand. Balancing school, work, a social life, alone time, sleep, and every other thing that teenagers deal with on a daily basis can sometimes be too much to handle.
To get more answers, I asked psychiatrist Jamie Soucie for her standpoint on this growing issue. The increasing suicide rates must be caused by something, considering after social media began taking over the nation, suicide rates have skyrocketed.
Soucie has some ideas as to why she thinks that this problem continues to grow, “I believe that suicide has become prevalent among young students because of a diminished capacity and/or lack of skills to respond to societal, academic, familial, and social pressures. Young people are consistently faced with meeting both real and perceived expectations that they believe must be achieved. This type of dynamic is not easily navigated without first developing the skills the manage such factors.”
She said, “Additionally, adolescents are experiencing one of the most challenging developmental periods of their lives, while establishing a sense of individuation and autonomy of decision-making. The combination of environmental, as well as biological factors create complexities that many of us aren’t prepared to address without some guidance or support.”
Soucie believes that suicide has in fact changed over the few years as a mental health professional. She stated, “It seems that information about teen suicide is more readily available in recent years and it is less ‘taboo’ to discuss – however, there remains a very negative stigma attached to the topic of mental illness. The truth is, unless we educate our youth about mental illness, the signs of disorders such as depression or bipolar, it is less likely they’ll be able to notice symptoms of and ask for support.”
Soucie then began her opinion on the changes over the years. “Suicide, for me, represents someone’s complete lack of hope and a desire for their pain to end. Those considering suicide are not able to see any other options – that’s why it is so important for youth to know how to access supports,” she says.
Adolescent depression is believed to be a large contributor to the number of growing suicide rates, and Soucie has to agree.
“Absolutely, this is a contributor – the onset of mood disorders is not uncommon in adolescence, therefore, we will see corresponding suicide rates, particularly for those who are unprepared to manage their illness. Everyone can expect that they will have times in life when they struggle; however, the severity of these symptoms, as well as the duration of symptoms is a great importance,” she says. “The reality of depression is not something we can just ‘deal’ with – it is a condition that often requires treatment. We wouldn’t ignore a broken leg, we would make an effort to have it treated by a medical professional. Mental illness is no different – it’s just less visible.”
It seems that in today’s day and age adolescents have more and more trouble asking for help. Soucie believes there is a reason for this.
“Adolescence often lead to very busy lives and focusing on mental health is not generally a priority that we teach our youth. Students who notice they’re struggling to find enough energy to function optimally throughout the day are not likely to identify this as a symptom of depression,” she says.
“An adolescent who finds it difficult to focus or concentrate in class may not question whether or not this is related to a mood disorder. If our youth are not prepared to notice these issues and their families are not aware of the symptoms associated with depression or bipolar disorder, we can only expect our youth to try adapting to the circumstances,” she adds. There is strong standpoint of educating adolescents about mental illness and it needs to be addressed.
“Yes, I believe education about mental illness is of great importance – not only for our youth, but for our families and the communities in which we live. It is my belief that, if we were more aware of these issues, perhaps we would all be more cautious of everyone’s feelings. We can no longer minimize adolescent struggles by saying that they no longer ‘just emotional’, conversely, we can no longer minimize the struggles that any individual within our home, workplace, classroom, or neighborhood are experiencing. It is each individual’s responsibility to notice when others struggle and to support them in asking for help,” Soucie says.
There is clearly quite a bit of a controversy when it comes to the topic of suicide, and it definitely isn’t a topic people feel comfortable talking about, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. As a teenager that has personally been to a treatment center for mental health, I can honestly say that more adolescents need to be education about this growing issue. When I went to treatment, I was at an all time low, I had nowhere to turn to, I felt completely alone, and I can honestly say being shipped away to someplace you know nothing about with total strangers is one of the scariest things I’ve been faced with. Keep in mind that I went to treatment twice, two different centers, with a lot of different people. There were people that had tried to end their life, same as I had, there were people who were paranoid schizophrenics, there were people with anxiety, people with eating disorders, to put it simply, there were a lot of different people in the same place for a lot of different reasons.
Nobody’s story was the same as anyone else’s, there were kids that were abused, that had fallen into drug and alcohol use, kids that have been in treatment 10+ times, kids that didn’t go home for their birthdays or missed holidays because they were in treatment for months at a time. Everyone in the treatment center had a reason to be there, but at the time, those people didn’t value the precious gift of life that we are given each day. In my experience with suicide, it is one of the scariest things imaginable, you get to a point where you cannot deal with life anymore, you’re not thinking of the people you love and care for in that moment, you’re only thinking about all the emotional pain you’re enduring whether you brought it upon yourself or not. Being in a treatment center is terrifying, you’re in a unfamiliar place, you have to sleep in a room with a stranger who has a mental disorder, and you don’t know what you’re doing. As someone that’s been to treatment, I can understand the severity of the problem, and how far it’s actually gone. Talking to the people in treatment has really made me see how hard that teenagers have it in today’s day and age. Many of the adolescents I met had many different reasons for being there, but mostly it was the pressures that they put on themselves. Many of the kids there hadn’t had their families visit them in days, sometimes even weeks. Treatment takes a large toll on these young people, and I believe that the problem is only getting worse. In treatment, you are not allowed to be ‘friends’ with the other kids you meet in the center, so after treatment, you’re ultimately on your own. It is extremely hard after treatment because you made these bonds with all these different people, and then you never talk to them again.
Treatment all together were some of the worst days of my life. I was at the lowest points I had ever been in during my life, but it also taught me the most. Treatment taught me to cope with my problems in a healthy way, and really encouraged me to get better. Adolescents never really think about mental illness, because they aren’t educated enough about the topic to realize the severity of it. Suicide awareness and prevention is something that needs to be talked about, and people of all ages need to be educated about the topic so they know symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses that can lead to attempted and completed suicide. This topic is now talked about more than ever, and it needs to keep being talked about, to raise awareness and to help find some ways it can be prevented.