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How Society Increases Teenage Suicide Rates

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Every time I see an account about suicide, I always read it. Why? Teenage suicide is making headlines once again, yet it’s one of the last issues that people make any effort to address. Suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24, with nearly 6,000 suicides occurring in the UK in 2017. Even then, it remains a taboo topic and is taken too lightly. Lightly enough, that prevention for teen’s taking their own lives isn’t happening until it’s too late.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics, show teenage suicides in London have drastically increased by 107% in 2018, which is simultaneously frightening and disappointing. The assumptions made towards teen suicides are ridiculously reflective of why young people are unable to ask for help. The stress and struggles of adolescent life makes us greatly susceptible to psychological risks. Rates of anxiety and depression have soared by 70% in the past two decades among teens and in a society where mental health is not discussed, they become dangerously good at concealing problems from others. Research for BBC’s School Report shows that 50% of teenagers with mental health problems try to deal with them on their own.

Most teens can’t fully express their feelings as they aren’t taken seriously enough. Classic signs of depression can be written off as laziness or other typical teenage tendencies. Assumptions are also made about the child being incapable of doing things expected of kids their age. As if shaming a teen, obviously suffering from crippling depression, for their flaws is a pretty charming act. Feeling misunderstood can lead to feeling isolated, worthless and helpless. In the midst of mental illness, teens hold back their cries for help and to those feeling trapped in their miserable existence, suicide begins to speak as an option. The same ignorance from society restricts them from saying, “I’m scared, I want to kill myself” to someone.

In BBC Panorama’s ‘Kids In Crisis’ episode, the lack of an acceptable extent of help for our teens is investigated. “You feel like you need to be completely and utterly the illest you could ever be without dying, just to receive help”, says Cerys, one of the teen’s who has been failed by the system. People can’t expect teen’s mental illnesses to magically fix themselves. You can’t tell a teen with depression to ‘just be happy’, a teen with anxiety to ‘just not worry’, or a teen with insomnia to ‘just go to sleep’. That’s like stabbing yourself in the stomach, followed by, ‘just stop bleeding’, and immediately feeling better. That’s not how it works.

In current society, suicidal teens can be labelled as stupid acts, attention-cravers who just want a hug. They are not. They feel no control of their prisoner’s cell, that voice of suicide continues to get louder, until eventually it’s the loudest in the room, and the only one they can hear. Truth is, we’re all deeply afraid. The worst part is, we don’t even want to kill ourselves. When choosing between vanishing forever, or living a cheerful, long life, you better believe we’re going with the latter. But serious mental problems snatch people’s ability to see that option. Consequently, they feel the first option is the only possible choice left. Understood?

Seeking support and seeking attention have enormous differences. Suicidal teens are sick and need help, not ignorant judgements made against them. Without attention given to educating people, talk about suicide is light and beyond insensitive. See the pattern?

Many aspects of society will also imply that teen suicide carries with it great selfishness. “Didn’t he think about the effect he’d have on his family?”, or, “How could she do this?”. Yeah, they thought of it. Yeah, they knew. But when they can’t find another option, it adds guilt onto their already unbearable load. It’s why suicide notes say “I’m sorry”. Remember, suicidal people feel as though their own presence is a burden to themselves and others. In this mindset, they believe the suffering their suicide will cause a few people, will balance out by the relief it will also bring – they believe it’s selfless. This, of course, isn’t the case. Then why do teens still do it, if they’re aware of all this, I hear society ask? Well, again, we’re ignoring how mental health issues pretty much mess up a kid’s thinking. We’re not discussing causes, preventions or treatment, but we’ll certainly discuss how selfish you were when it kills you!

A frequent misconception is that teenage suicide is “rare”. Unfortunately, many families are oblivious to how common the problem is. Suicidal teenagers are very varied from suicidal adults, and very often we don’t look sad (we’re very good at hiding behind our smiles). We might even be happy sometimes, especially once we’ve figured out our escape plan…

Parents should observe and listen to their depressed and withdrawn kids because they’re all different. They may not have chronic periods of staring into nothingness, or cry you a river, but can show depression through sleep, grades, friendships etc. Parents should take their children’s concerns seriously, even if it isn’t serious to them. For the teen, it can feel really overwhelming. Growing up suicidal is difficult, they don’t know what to do with their life anymore, because they’d never planned on still being alive for the moment.

Indifference from all kinds of people in their society plays the biggest role behind driving teenage suicide to crisis point. Jess, another teen followed by BBC Panorama, was refused proper medical support as she wasn’t considered sick enough. She received no treatment until she was regularly suicidal. In tears, her mum says, “We were crying out for help and support for a very long time. She shouldn’t have deteriorated to this level…”

What hope, if any, does a teen have left, if the service itself is stopping the access? The budget for young people’s mental health is raided by other areas of our National Health Service, and only a quarter of kids with these issues get treatment. Serious attention desperately needs to be paid to young people’s support, as it is increasingly becoming a dangerous problem.

Schools should also do more to educate about reducing risks of suicide and mental illness. 16 year old Grace, on BBC News, said “there was no-one to turn to… I felt so low and didn’t want to go on.”

Yes, there are child/teenage mental health services out there, sure, bring in a health advisor to flick through a 15-minute PowerPoint, but this is simply not enough. Suicide awareness is not enough for suicide prevention. Kids spend so much time at school, teachers are in the correct place to identify a child at risk. Young people should be able to feel like there is somewhere to vent. There are many services telling those who are struggling to reach out. Fair enough, but part of what mental illness does is mute your ability to reach. If you’re not depressed or suicidal, and you see someone struggling, you reach out. If you don’t see someone who used to be around, you reach out.

If we were all more educated about suicide amongst young people, teens would be able to seek help, listen to each-other, approach their (now, hopefully, non-judgemental) peers and most importantly, talk to them. Maybe we worry that bringing up the subject might trigger the suicide, however, covering it up only violates trust and disconnect relationships. Suicide should no longer be whispered but spoken about in our society. Watch us all stand together during World Suicide Prevention day, change our social media bios, and wear little badges for ‘Mental Health Awareness’, yet how many more of our teens have to kill themselves before we start taking this issue seriously enough? 

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