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Biology 103
2003 Third Paper
On Serendip

The third leading cause of death amongst teenagers: Suicide

Ramatu Kallon

Did you know that suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States? (4). In 1992, more teenagers and young adults died from suicide than those who died from stroke, cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined (4).

Suicide is definitely a compelling problem amongst youth in the U.S today.

It is estimated that 300 to 400 teen suicides occur per year in Los Angeles County; which is equivalent to one teenager lost every day (1). Many concerned people ask, "What is going on?" and "Why is this happening?" Among many things, some suicidal youths experience family trouble, which leads them, to doubt their self-worth and make them feel unwanted, superfluous, and misunderstood. According to one study, 90 percent of suicidal teenagers believed their families did not understand them. Young people reported that when they tried to tell their parents about their feelings of unhappiness or failure, their mother and father denied or ignored their point of view (1). Suicide can be prevented; in fact, suicide prevention has saved over ten percent of teens who have tried to attempt suicide (1). In this paper I will prove that although, suicide is a serious epidemic amongst teens in the U.S., it can also be prevented.

"I'm depressed." You might say it casually to refer to sadness that engulfs you and then goes away. But depression is also a mental health illness that may require help from an experienced professional(1). Depression has been considered to be the leading cause of teen suicide in the 20th century, affecting approximately eight million teens in North America (2). Recent studies show that greater than 20% of adolescents in the general population, have emotional problems and one-third of adolescents attending psychiatric clinics suffer from depression (2). Being a young person in today's world is no easy task, they have to deal with increasingly difficult decisions and pressures every day. Tragically, young people feel they are not able to cope, that there is no one who either cares enough or is able to help them cope with their worries. They become desperate enough to take their own lives.

Some teens, who have committed suicide because of depression, come from homes with family problems. "Families who use guilt as a means of controlling behavior, make talking honestly and directly, difficult for the teen." (2). Too often parents and other adults criticize the child rather than the behavior. Apparent loss of love contributes to the risk of suicide. This was true in the suicide case of Katja Lewis, who committed suicide at the young age of 19. "Katja was a young woman, searching for the answers, always unsure of herself, looking for love but never seeming to find it . Katja, decided life was no more worth living, on Tuesday, September 30th 1997; when she took an overdose of anti-depressants and left this world sometime around 3 a.m. She never saw the sun rise again, and she never will. (3).

Divorce, the formation of a new family with step-parents and step-siblings, or a move to a new community can be stressful and can build up self-doubts. In some cases, suicide appears to be a "solution." Seventeen-year-old Charles Burnes committed suicide just two months after his parents divorced. It was said he was never the same after his parents divorce. He began to slowly withdraw from society until one day he gave up and ended his life. (2).

These two stories above are just some of the many suicide cases sweeping the country everyday. Each year, more than 400,000 teenagers attempt suicide and more than half of that number actually commits suicide. People might ask, "What can we do to prevent this epidemic?" There are many things we as individuals can do to help our friends, husbands, and family members who might be thinking about suicide.

There are many ways teen suicide can be prevented. Psychologists say that parents who feel that their child is suicidal or troubled should ask him or her to talk about their feelings. The parent should reassure them that they are loved, and remind them that no matter how awful their problems seem, they can be worked out. Listen carefully. Do not dismiss. The important thing is to pay attention. Encourage them to talk. Listen. Be on their side. Reassure without dismissing. (1). It is very important to talk to someone who might be contemplating suicide. Do not accuse people of being suicidal, listen and let them do most of the talking. The important thing to do is to continue to listen to the person who is suicidal, "Bringing up the question of suicide and discussing it without showing shock or disapproval is one of the most helpful things you can do. This openness shows that you are taking the individual seriously and responding to the severity of his or her distress" (2).

Suicide is a problem affecting many teenagers today. Often teens are depressed and do not know who or where to turn, so they find comfort in killing themselves. Family issues can be sufficiently overwhelming. Some teens feel they cannot handle life. As a result, they hurt themselves to revel how much they are hurting inside. It does not seem right that a teenager who has lived for such a short time would choose to die. Suicide doesn't have to happen. Teens need to feel wanted, and to find someone in whom they can confide. It's important that teens who are suicidal seek help from someone who will help them realize that there is so much more to life, than trying to end it. As we can see here, suicide is definitely an epidemic affecting millions of people in general. If someone you know is thinking about suicide, make sure you find the best way to help them, that might even mean seeking some form of counseling. Below are some useful facts about teen suicide:

Teen Suicide Fact
Each year 500,000 young adults, aged 15 to 25, attempt suicide.
Each year 5,000 young adults succeed.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 25 year olds.
Suicide is the sixth leading cause of death among 5 to 14 year olds.
Young adult males succeed a suicide almost two times as often as any other group.
Without treatment, of those who attempt suicide, 80 percent are likely to try again.
Teen depression almost always leads to suicidal thoughts.

While the above teen suicide facts are astounding, here are some positives about teen depression and suicide:
The number one cause of teen suicide is untreated depression.
Most suicidal teens respond positively to psychotherapy and medication.
Nearly 90 percent of depressed people benefit from medication.
Those contemplating suicide can be "talked out of it."

WWW Sources

1)Teen depression homepage, a rich resource on how to prevent teen suicide

2)Teen depression homepage, a rich resource on causes of suicide.

3)Teen depression homepage, a personal story on teen suicide

4)Teen depression homepage, facts about suicide

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