Teenage suicide has become a critical, national problem the extent of which is mind boggling. From 1980 to 1992 the rate of suicides involving persons from the ages of 10-14 years old has increased by 120 percent, and has increased 28.3 percent when involving persons from the ages of 15-19 years old (Suicide 451). More recently in a poll of 3,210 high-school honor students, a stunning one-quarter have seriously considered suicide (Eaton 15). Suicides have been proven to be one of the leading causes of death among teens, falling second only to accidents (Roberts 45). This data, however, may be inaccurate, being that deaths labeled accidental may have actually been teen suicides. Also, many families may not want to report suicides or suicide attempts for the fear of embarrassment. Nevertheless, there is extensive proof that suicide attempts and/or successes are on the rise among teenagers, and numerous groups have devoted themselves to establishing a cause to this epidemic. The one similarity that all of these different groups seem to agree on is that there is not one single theory that explains the growing phenomenon of teenage suicide. However, a number of factors seem to be common among “at-risk teens,” factors that, if given the right set of circumstances, could put them in jeopardy.
One of and seemingly the most common of these factors is depression. According to the National Association for
Mental Health, nearly 20 percent of those who receive care for
depression in hospitals and clinics are under the age of eighteen (Leder 31). Everyone has different reasons for being depressed and the extent of that depression will also vary from person to person. Some common causes of depression that have been found to lead to suicide attempts are not feeling loved and/or understood, the feeling of rejection, trouble with friends and family, or the feeling of being “no good.” A loss, (as in the death of a loved one, divorce, or the breakup up with a boyfriend/girlfriend) Has also been found to link depression and suicide (Leder 34).
Psychologists and doctors have also realized that having numerous psychological problems, known as “conduct disorders,” causes teens to have impulsive behavior. This impulsive behavior can cause them to act violently and antisocially; when these youths commit suicide, it can be looked at as an act of “violence turned inward” (Long 24). Violent behavior and suicide may be directly related to altered brain chemistry according to Marie Asberg, a Swedish psychiatrist. She has found that there are lower levels of the cerebrospinal chemical 5-HIAA in suicidal subjects, when compared to “normal” subjects. This chemical is a by product of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which may regulate
mood and aggression (Long 25). According to Dr. Michael
Stanley, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, “the
serotonin data is the most potentially promising development in the suicide prevention field.” According to Stanley, it may be possible to test whether or not a person may be suicidal (qtd. in
Some say that the incrteased rate of completed suicicdes may be atributed to the use of more leathal means during attempts.
Another major factor that relates to adolescent suicide is the use of drugs and alcohol. Experts estimated that an amazing three out of four youths that commit suicide have abused drugs at one time or another. Alcohol has also been found in the blood of at least half of all adolescents at the time of there suicide (Long 23). There are many reasons why drugs and alcohol create a higher risk of suicide. For example, first, drugs are commonly used as an escape; they help in coping with stress and frustration by blocking it out. This attempted release from problems shows that the teen has already become unstable and is losing control. Secondly, when a person is under the influence of drugs, or is intoxicated, his self-control is enormously decreased. He may suddenly act upon a suicidal thought without putting any thought into it. Finally and probably the most understandable reason why they are related to adolescent suicide, is that they act as a mean to do
so. In other words, drugs and alcohol can be used as weapons themselves, as in an overdose (Hafen 28).
A further cause of suicide among adolescents can be seen in the connection between suicide and sexual orientation. In San Francisco, five hundred gay and lesbian youths were interviewed and an astonishing thirty percent had attempted
suicide at least once (Bull 36). Lisa Rodgers, the program director for Out Youth, a group for gay and lesbian teenagers, says: “A lot of these kids have absolutely nobody in the world, they are hated and despised everywhere they go.” She then continues: “it’s not surprising that a lot of them don’t see a future” (qtd. in Bull 36). Lesbian and gay adolescents face tremendous challenges while trying to grow up physically and mentally healthy in a world where the majority of the public seem anti-homosexual. These youths face an increased risk of psychosocial problems, problems that aren’t caused by their sexual orientation, but by society’s reaction to it.
Another theory that is linked to adolescent suicide is the feeling of pressure to succeed. Suicide rates are higher in generations were there is a greater population, which causes an increase in competition for jobs, grades and in school sports (Long 21). The pressure to achieve academically can be particularly intense during adolescence, when the pressure is on performing well enough for college acceptance. During elementary school and middle school, failure can be
embarrassing and a reason for punishment at home; during the
later years of high school and college, however, a person’s potential career is at
risk. One student in a report from the White House Conference on Children in 1970 maintains: “If I ever commit suicide, I’ll leave
my school schedule behind as a suicide note” ( qtd. in Gardner and Rosenberg 50). This statement opened the eyes of the
government as to the extent of pressure placed on adolescents by
A loss of self-worth or self-esteem is high on the at-risk list for teenagers. Because a sense of identity is often pretty shacked and fragile during adolescence, feelings of not being worth much in one’s parents eyes won’t help a young person’s self-esteem. In extreme cases the adolescent may look upon himself, as being despicable and worthless, and learn to hate himself, when he is unable able to reach their goals (Hafen 95). The Youth Suicide National Center feels that “few of them adolescents have found ways of dealing with the lack of self esteem and when these feelings overwhelm them, they believe there is something very wrong with them.” (qtd. in Hafen 23).
After reading numerous books and articles, the plain, but simple truth is that no one knows exactly why teenagers
kill themselves. Psychiatrists have, however, reached the conclusion that in a society where adolescents have been exposed to many adult pressures and stresses, they may not be able to cope. Some of the most common causes of stress revolve around family situations, social problems, depression, developmental factors, and other factors associated with adolescents. It is this unbearable stress that leads them to the act of suicide.