Opening the Door: Talking Truth about Teen Suicide

As a parent, I find myself in the surreal position of writing a blog post tragically initiated by the suicide of a local 8th-grader…

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised; according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death in the USA for those ages 15 to 24. Male suicide deaths outnumber female deaths by about 4 to 1 (firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide among young men), but females attempt suicide two to three times as often as males.

Statistics don’t cover the heartbreak, however, and they can’t make sense of the inexplicable.  There are risk factors associated with teens who attempt suicide (mental illness, substance abuse, bullying) but suicide is clearly complex as not all teen suicides present as depressed, unhappy or abused individuals. There are many bewildered surviving family members, friends and teachers who have said “I had no idea that he/she was suicidal”; we need to understand that suicide doesn’t always have a ‘tell’ and that suicide is not always predictable.

It is not always predictable, but it IS preventable.

Why are our sons and daughters choosing to die? What do our children need in order to deal with the issues of their young lives, and why is suicide even considered as a viable option to a temporary problem? Where are we failing our children?

We fail our children when we shy away from openly discussing suicide. It is an ugly, scary subject, one we read about in papers or watch on TV and mentally close the door on…because if someone else’s beloved child could awfully choose to die, then what protects us and ours?

Protection is gained by opening the doors wide to honest talk on this formerly ‘taboo’ topic. We can help prevent teen suicide by recognizing isolation in the midst of popularity and social media, by supplying parents, teachers and friends with the questions to ask, by pulling in fringe students, by providing teens with alternatives. We can wrap our tweens and teens in understanding, awareness, open discussion and community support:

1) We need to understand our children’s 2.0 world, the human disconnect and the pressures that exist in 2014 that differ (or are magnified) from our own adolescence, and how to stay engaged as our teens’ ‘life-guides’.

2) We need to be aware of how tweens and teens THINK. They live in the intensity of the moment, and their narrow parameters are school, friends and family. We forget that our smart, high-achieving, responsible high-schoolers are still in transit from childhood: their brain neurology is in process, their emotions are in flux. Our teens are not equipped to take the long view and discern what is truly life-altering — or what is merely a tiny glitch in the grand scheme of being.

3) We need to openly and frequently discuss suicide and healthy alternatives. Suicide may become a choice for a teen that sees no way out of intolerable feelings or devastating circumstances, or, who hasn’t had the experience to internalize the idea that time has a way of changing out all ‘hopeless’ situations. Talking about suicide means teaching or parenting to our darkest fear, but we must bravely talk with our teens NOW about handling painful feelings, stupid mistakes or seemingly unbearable situations. We can state, demonstrate and reinforce our unfaltering presence in our children’s lives and openly address suicide alternatives — and why death is not part of a healthy teen’s arsenal of solutions.

4) We need to recognize that teen suicide is a community-wide issue that requires community support! Helping teens understand that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and providing options, is no longer just the domain of therapists and social workers. Mental health and school budget cuts mean we all must talk early and often to our children, at home and in school, about emotional coping skills.  As a community, we can keep our kids safe and help prevent another senseless death…

We can take action against unimaginable loss.

We can refuse to hide from the word ‘suicide’.

We can open the door.



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); call is confidential, free, 24/7/365

Oakland County Youth Suicide Prevention INFORMATION PAGE  and TOOLKITS for PARENTS and SCHOOLS

(Toolkit and information page developed by Oakland County Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, a five-agency initiative supported by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and comprised of Oakland County Department of Health and Human Services, Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, Oakland Schools, Easter Seals, Common Ground/Training and Treatment Innovations.)

9 Things To Do Or Say When A Loved One Talks About Taking Their Life by Lisa Esposito for US News

Teen Suicide Warning Signs from The Ohio State University Medical Center

The Teenage Brain: Why adolescents sleep in, take risks, and won’t listen to reason by Nora Underwood/The WALRUS

Suicide Facts at a Glance (FACT-SHEET/CDC)

The Decisive Element in the Classroom: What Successful Classroom Teachers Do to Stop Bullying by Signe Whitson, LSW

Educators: Suicide Prevention & Awareness Resources from TeacherVision

Blocking the Paths to Suicide by Celia Watson Seupel (NY Times)

7 Essential Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Suicide from American Psychological Association


 by Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000

*Image used with permission from criggchef under flickr Creative Commons


  1. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is a must for any school district, for the counselors, teachers really just about anyone who is in contact with students.

  3. Orange Atheist · · Reply

    We can stop stigmatizing mental illness and labeling people who commit suicide as “selfish”. People who commit suicide, be they young or old, are hurting more than someone who’s never been at the brink could ever possibly comprehend.

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