No one should ever feel like he or she is responsible for preventing a suicide. But knowing the warning signs of suicide can help parents and friends of GLBT teens deal with this really tough issue.
Warning Signs for Suicide
How do you know if someone is suicidal or just feeling down? If you aren't a mental health professional, it can be almost impossible to tell for sure. But since parents and friends are often the ones in closest contact with of GLBT teens, it is important for them to know the warning signs of suicide.The American Association of Suicidology offers a mnemonic called "IS PATH WARM?" to help remember the warning signs for suicide. Here is what it stands for:
I Ideation (that means talking about or planning suicide)
S Substance Abuse
M Mood Changes
Though you might not think that your loved one means it when he says he wants to kill himself, it is really important to take people seriously if they talk about suicide. Talk of suicide can be a sign that a person is really in danger. It is also wise to be aware that in some cases talking or writing about death, dying or suicide can be a cry for help which shouldn't be ignored.
Risk Factors for Teen Suicide
In addition to keeping an eye out for warning signs, you should also know that certain people are at greater risk for suicide. About's Guide to Pediatrics shares the following risk factors for teen suicide:
- untreated depression
- mood disorders
- chronic anxiety
- stressful events, including relationship breakups, family problems, etc.
- previous suicide attempts
- genetics -- family history of suicide or psychiatric conditions
- conduct disorder
- eating disorders
- sexual assault
- child abuse
- drug and alcohol abuse
- being bullied
- dropping out of school
- taking certain medications, including antidepressants, Strattera (atomoxetine), a medication for ADHD, and Accutane (isotretinoin), which is used to treat teens with severe nodulocystic acne, and antiseizure drugs, such as Tegretol (carbamazepine), Depakoke (valproate), and Lamictal (lamotrigine)
Suicide Risk and GLBT Teens
Another risk factor is actually being a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender teen. So does that mean all GLBT teens are at risk of taking their own lives? Not at all! it is important to realize that being GLBT itself does not make someone more likely to kill him or herself. Rather, it is the negative treatment that many GLBT teens endure that can lead to suicidal feelings.
"Sexual orientation and gender identity alone are not risk factors for suicide. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth face many social factors that put them at higher risk for self-destructive behaviors, including suicide."
How to Help a Suicidal Teen
Understanding what some of the risk factors are for suicide can go along way in preventing the loss of a life. Still, it can be hard to know what to do when you think someone is suicidal. You might worry about being wrong in your suspicions, angering the person, or overstepping your boundaries. You might feel scared and not know what to say. That's okay. You aren't expected to be a trained expert! What you can be is someone who offers love and support and who provides information about the medical and mental health professionals who can give a teen the help he or she needs.
As one teen explained on the GLBT teens forum:
"When I felt suicide was the best course of action, what I wanted most was someone to tell me that I MATTERED, and that they loved me, not people belittling me and making me feel as if my feelings weren't valid. "
Suicide Help and Prevention
If someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are a lot of good resources that can help. One is the GLBT teen suicide prevention and information organization, the Trevor Project. Reach them online or at, 1-866-4-U-Trevor. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or the Yellow Ribbon Campaign at 1-800-SUICIDE.
If you think someone is in immediate danger of committing suicide, this is considered a medical emergency and you should call 911 or get the person to an emergency room right away.