Recent statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an alarming picture. While suicide rates among men and adolescent women have increased steadily since 2007, suicide rates among adolescent girls have reached their highest point in 2015. The most vulnerable group for suicide attempts has been found to be those between 15 and 24 years of age. It is estimated that 10 times more people try to commit suicide than those who succeed.
In 1987, Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, was among the first to notice that there is a higher suicide rate among those individuals who are not socially integrated and don’t have family and social support. His observations may apply to students from many countries who attempt suicide, who come from the interior to the country’s main cities and lack the support of their friends and families.
There are several causes for adolescent suicides. In many cases, those who commit suicide are afraid of performing badly in their exams. In many cases, they are under the combined pressures of work, study and personal problems. In addition, many young people are unable to find jobs (or jobs according to their qualifications and experience) and enter into depression, which lies behind the high number of suicides. Many graduates are unable to find jobs even a year later or more after they graduated.
In rural areas, where people are poorer than in the cities, there is the additional problem that most young people don’t have good access to already scarce mental health services.
The high numbers of suicides among adolescents are also related to the extreme pressure from their families to perform well in school and excel in their studies. In addition to those pressures, adolescents experience feelings of isolation and loneliness which make them prone to attempt suicide.
Is it possible to lower the high rates of adolescents’ suicides, given the complexity of the problem? I believe it is possible if parents, teachers and friends can pick up signs of distress among the young. Certain characteristics – such as depression, conduct disorders and situational crises- are associated with increased risk of suicide.
Young people may have some particular behaviors that indicate their intention to commit suicide. Among those behaviors are changes of appearance and conduct toward their friends. Others may also be making some final arrangements such as giving away priced possessions or making suicidal threats through direct or indirect statements.
Because children and adolescents spend a substantial amount of time at school under the supervision of school personnel, school staff should be trained on the importance of risk factors and warning signs of suicidal behavior.
Teachers should give special classes discussing the problem of adolescents’ suicides, alerting students to the need to look for help when they feel stressful and feel unable to cope with their personal problems. At the same time, there should be increased communication among parents, teachers and school staff.
A good approach would be the creation of “Crises Prevention Teams” (CPT) made up of representatives from the students, the parents and the school administration that should be in charge of following students whose behavior raise concern. In addition, students should have easy access to effective medical and mental health resources. Through a combined and comprehensive set of actions, what is threatening to become a serious public health problem can be effectively controlled.
“Creer en el hombre significa creer en su libertad. Libertad de pensamiento, de palabra, de crítica, de oposición.” - Oriana Fallaci