13 Reasons Why… How to Protect Your Teen from Suicide

Have you seen it yet? That is the question circulating in my social circles these days. The Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why” about a high school girl who commits suicide and leaves behind an elaborate series of messages about why she did it, is creating quite a stir among those who work with teens.

There are some who think the series is a positive move by the entertainment industry to raise awareness and open dialogue about the real issues facing today’s youth. There are others who point to research that suggests programming like 13 Reasons can glamorize suicide and make it a more appealing option to vulnerable young people.

Both camps have legitimate points. What is not in doubt is that suicide is a serious issue. In fact, it is the 3rd leading cause of death among teenagers. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) 11% of all teen deaths between 1999–2006 were suicides. If you are a parent, a teacher or anyone who has contact with a teen, this is distressing. How do we help to prevent the loss of life of so many young people each year?

That is a question without a simple answer. The causes of suicide are varied and complicated. However, research clearly indicates that the skills, experiences and mindsets that make up what we call internal resilience, can provide a strong protective effect against suicide.

To say that a teen who has learned to be resilient will never be at risk for suicide is an oversimplification. But there is no doubt that these 5 factors lower your teen’s risk — and will improve their quality of life too:

  1. Foster Problem-Solving Ability: Teens who grow up having everything handed to them and who are never forced to deal with small problems on their own, can fail to develop the necessary problem solving strategies needed to effectively negotiate life. Empower your teen to know they have the ability think through and solve problems by allowing him or her to handle small issues on their own. Resist the urge to swoop in and fix unless the situation is serious enough to warrant your help.
  2. Provide Support When Needed: Conversely, teens also need to know that they have access to resources when necessary. Listen. Communicate regularly. The more tools your teen has at their disposal the more confident they will be in their ability to get through any challenge they may be facing.
  3. Develop Bonds: As human beings, we are all social creatures. Teens are no different. Make sure that your teen knows you are there to talk to. Help him or her to form connections with other adults in their lives. Teens who feel connected to the world around them are at lower risk for suicide than those who feel isolated and alone.
  4. Create a Growth Mindset: People generally operate from one of two paradigms in life: static mindset or growth mindset. Those with a static mindset believe that things are largely unchangeable. For example: if you are overweight, you always will be. If you are poor, there is nothing you can do about. Other people however, have a growth mindset. While they may deal with similar challenges, they believe that improvement is possible. vA growth mindset is the key to maintaining hope. If you believe that things can be better, then whatever you are currently dealing with become far more bearable. Teens who have a growth mindset will be more capable of enduring difficult times in their lives.
  5. Build Determination: Perseverance or determination are key factors to success as well as in preventing suicide. Again, suicide is essentially giving up on solving a problem. The problem may be complex and understandably overwhelming, but if someone has the determination and growth mindset to believe that with enough effort, it can be solved, suicide is eliminated as an option.

You can help your teen develop resilience and determination in simple ways. Encourage them to finish things they start (don’t let them quit a job after the first day; ensure they are completing the difficult homework assignments etc). Determination is not so much an innate character trait as a practiced habit.

Don’t wait for crisis before you act. Work on these five proactive steps and hopefully suicide will never be an issue in your house.