In a study published on May of this year, 32 Children’s Hospitals were examined for the suicidality or self-harm of children and teens. Between 2008 and 2015, the incidence of children being admitted for suicidal thoughts or actions, or self-harming behaviors had more than doubled.
Teens between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced the largest increase in these types of hospital admissions. With the popularity of the series “13 Reasons Why”, and suicide as the leading cause of death of American teenagers, there are several conversations that have begun in homes and schools nationwide.
But the question of, “Why does this keep happening” remains on the lips of parents, educators, psychologists, and peers. Let’s look at a few major influences.
The Social Media Factor
One does not need to look further than a social media feed to find evidence of online aggression. Hidden behind a computer screen in the safety of their own homes, somewhat anonymous individuals seem to continuously engage in electronic aggression.
However, there seems to be a disconnect between those who reportedly engage in electronic aggression and those who are the victims of it. In a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children and teens claim to have never been an aggressor – yet anywhere from six to 35 percent of children and teens studied have reportedly been victimized by this type of behavior.
While it is certainly possible that children and teens are the victims of online aggression at the hand of adults, the more likely scenario is that most aggressors do not recognize their behavior as particularly harmful.
The Role of Mental Health
Growing up in today’s world is incredibly challenging for those seeking to live a moral life. Bombarded by substance abuse, sexuality, violence, social pressures, family struggles, and academic challenges, today’s youth are constantly met with a barrage of messages telling them who to be and what to do.
While depression and anxiety are often conditions of uncertainty, the growing presence of mental illness in today’s children and teens cannot be ignored. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, one of the most predictable risk factors for teen suicide is mental illness and, when combined with substance-abuse disorders, are present in more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide.
Fortunately, the APA asserts that suicide is preventable by pairing those in need of mental health care with professionals who are equipped to help them. The challenge then becomes how to connect kids who are struggling with those that can help.
Resilience is Fostered
Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt well to trauma, adversity, tragedy, or stress. One of the most important characteristics a youth can develop, a person’s resilience will determine whether they will be strengthened in the face of adversity or crumble in the midst of it.
Fortunately, resilience is not something we are born with, but rather a skill that can be honed over time. Establishing and feeding feelings of connectedness, giving service to those less fortunate, teaching self-care, and establishing a habit of goal setting and keeping can all foster resilience in children.
Once a youth has confidence in their ability to overcome challenges, with the help of a supportive network, they seem to take on a sense of self-worth that may be damaged, but can no longer be destroyed by external influences.
Religion Can Help
The connection between spirituality and suicide prevention in children and teens continues to be studied by both secular and religious organizations.
In response to a growing suicide crisis in its state, the Utah Department of Health examined the health-related behaviors of junior high and high school students throughout the state to find out how they could address such an alarming trend. Among those who attended religious services or activities regularly, there was a lower risk of suicide ideation and even those who had experienced depressive symptoms the previous year, who reported religious involvement, were less likely to have considered suicide during that time.
A separate study went so far as to assert that youth are also more likely to receive mental health services when they have a religious community that encourages them to do so.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call them at 1-800-273-TALK or visit their website at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
~ 1776 Christian