We express our deepest sympathies to the family who lost their son recently at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, CA. The community is grieving with the family, and parents, clinicians, and educators are working hard to map the steps to teen suicide awareness and prevention.
In 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that suicide was the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10-24 years. Suicide continues to be a significant cause of concern for parents and schools. The recent series, 13 Reasons Why, has also raised alarm amongst clinicians, teachers, and parents. The San Diego Union Tribune interviewed Dr. Maker on the recent shooting/suicide at Torrey Pines High School, and the pros and cons of the series 13 Reasons Why.
Given the high rate of teen suicide, it is imperative that parents and schools focus on prevention and early assessment if we are to make a change. Here are some suggestions of what adults can do to identify early warning signs:
- Check in frequently with your teenage about their socio-emotional functioning – not just their grades, tests, and school performance.
- Ask your teen how much fun they had in school that day or week.
- Although teenagers are private, ask them how their friendships are going: are they having lunch with others, playing sports with friends, being invited to parties, etc.
- Ask your teen, how he/she is feeling about school, friends, grades, the future, and the family.
- Teachers can check in more frequently with the quiet teen, the isolated teen, the teen who is struggling with grades and friendships, and the new kid in the classroom.
- Parents, teachers, and counselors should collaborate frequently when they may have concerns about a teenager. Early discussions, feedback, and interventions at home and at school could have a huge impact on the child.
- If you have concerns, take your teenager in to see a professional for an objective and expert assessment. Prevention and early detection is key to helping your child.
- Schools consistently do standardized academic testing for all students every year. It would be an excellent and cost-effective intervention to do annual or bi-annual socio-emotional wellness checks with standardized mental health screening questionnaires with all students in schools.
Teen suicide is a complicated and painful issue. As a community, we will continue to work together to reach out to teenagers, with a focus on prevention and early intervention. It is key to successfully prevent further tragedies amongst this very vulnerable population.