Teen suicide has risen 300 percent in the last three decades. Know how to recognize the signs that a teen in your church is troubled--and the best way to help them.
By Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D.
Did you know suicide is now the third leading cause of death among people age 13 to 24? According to a recent survey of high school students, teens (60 percent) often think about killing themselves, and some (9 percent) say they have made an attempt at least once. In the last three decades, teen suicide has risen 300 percent. In light of such dramatic numbers, it is imperative that parents as well as those in ministry who work with young people know the signs signaling a troubled teen.
Depression is behind suicide. Signs of teen depression include but are not limited to: sleeping more than usual; not sleeping well and feeling tired; appetite changes; restlessness; and isolation from friends and family.
Following are some steps parents can take to prevent teens from becoming a statistic. Church leaders who work with youth should be aware of these as well.
Talk with your teen about his suicidal feelings. Talking about suicide does not cause someone to do it. Ask if he has a plan. If he does, he is more at risk.
Don't promise to keep suicidal feelings a secret. Make it clear people must be told so help can be given.
Communicate there is a way out of whatever he faces. Options need to be presented. The lie of hopelessness must be confronted.
Don't lecture. Teens will talk if you listen. Make yourself available.
Reassure him that he is not a burden. Assure him you want to hear what he is thinking and will take it seriously.
Remove any means for self-harm. If there are guns, pills, knives or ropes available for harm, get rid of them.
Identify the lie that is telling him to self-destruct, and ask God to reveal the truth to him. Speak the Word of God into his life. Pray and intercede.
Teach him the Word of God. Scripture is a powerful weapon against any attack. Fill your teen so full of the Word that he recognizes the truth. The truth will set him free. Begin at an early age.
Tell your teen he is loved unconditionally. Communicate there is nothing he can do to make you stop loving him.
Spend time with your teen. The single best prevention against any teen risk behavior is a meaningful relationship with a parent. Know your teen. Be involved.
Be direct. Problems aren't solved by death. Instead people are hurt. Discuss how those alive suffer.
Give hope. God will never leave or forsake that teen. Ask God to reveal His truth whenever the lie of self-destruction appears.
Get professional help. Suicidal teens suffer from depression. They may need intervention from people trained to work with depression and/or suicide issues.
There are many sources of help. Check your local mental health agencies, and ask for Christian therapists trained to treat teen depression and suicide.
Youth leaders should be involved as prayer partners. If you need help related to this issue and don't know where to begin, contact your family physician or community services.
Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical social worker and author of the new "Breaking Free" book series (www.charismahouse.com), from which this article was adapted.