Support for Youth Suicide Prevention

By Brittni Barcase

Although National Suicide Prevention Month has come and gone for the year, we need to stay active in our prevention and education about suicide. Since 2007, youth suicide rates have been on the rise (National Vital Statistics Reports, CDC). In Maryland, one in five teens considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the 2021 Maryland Youth Pandemic Behavior Survey. Knowing this, how can we support our youth?

First and foremost, know the warning signs of suicide. These include:  

  • Depressed mood, ADHD or other mental health problems
  • Family loss or instability, significant problems with parent(s) 
  • Expressions of suicidal thoughts, or talk of death or the afterlife during moments of sadness or boredom 
  • Withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation 
  • Poor ability to manage one’s negative emotions 
  • Lack of interest in or enjoyment of activities that once were pleasurable 
  • Impulsive, aggressive behavior, frequent expressions of rage 
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse 
  • Engagement in high-risk behaviors (e.g., fire-setting, involvement in cults/gangs, cruelty to animals) 
  • Social isolation and poor self-esteem 
  • Witnessing or exposure to family violence or abuse 
  • Having a relative who completed or attempted suicide 
  • Preoccupation with themes and acts of violence on TV shows, movies, music, magazines, comic books, video games and internet sites 
  • Giving away meaningful belongings 
  • Frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated

Second, understand the challenges that our youth face, such as: 

  • Family pressures 
  • School pressures 
  • Athletics and extracurricular pressures 
  • Discovering their identity – gender, sexual, and self  
  • Socio-economic challenges 
  • Race and ethnic disparities  

“Suicidal behaviors are complex and involve many contributing factors— sometimes stressful life circumstances can serve as a tipping point,” said Behavioral Health Administration Deputy Secretary Dr. Aliya Jones following the 2021 release of the Maryland Department of Health launch of the Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit and MD Young Minds.  

Third, and most importantly, know how to help and provide support: 

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Directly ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves or if they have made any plans to do so. Explain the reasons for your concerns 
  • Use LGBTQIA+ affirming language 
  • Be an active listener and offer compassion and support. Affirm their feelings, then assure them that help is available 
  • Take any suicide threat seriously and don’t keep suicide a secret 
  • Offer resources, get them help. If they are in immediate danger, do not leave them alone and seek help 
  • Secure firearms 
  • Follow-up with them on how they are feeling 
  • Encourage self-care and mental wellbeing 
  • If appropriate, offer resources like counseling and therapy 
  • Add 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, into their cellphone directory and explain that they can text or call the number 24/7 

Rudy Caseres is an award-winning mental health advocate and keynote speaker for the American Association of Suicidology who hosts a live show on suicide prevention called SPSM Chat every Sunday night. When interviewed for The Mighty, a Lifeline partner, about why talking about suicide should be normalized, Caseres responded, “Suicide is still a topic that is not talked about nearly enough, and it is detriment to us all because it leaves people living with suicidal feelings and ideation in silence. I’m alive today because there are people around me who I can reach out to when I am suffering.”

In order to successfully offer prevention and aid for suicide, there needs to be an all-hands-on deck approach. Support must come from the community, the school, and the individual, with an emphasis on direct communication. JCS’ Prevention and Wellness Education provides training and programming, including QPR and Mental Wellness 101, in these efforts through interactive and open dialogue-based curriculum. For questions and inquiries, please contact Brittni Barcase at bbarcase@jcsbaltimore.org 

Brittni Barcase is a Prevention & Wellness Program Coordinator at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.

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