Parenting is one of the most challenging responsibilities a human being will ever take on. A particularly daunting challenge parents face is determining whether their offsprings who are late teens or young adults (ages 18 to 24 years) are going through depression, having suicidal thoughts, or just going through a brief period of “the blues”, according to Yellowbrick, a national psychiatric center of excellence in Evanston, Illinois.
Vulnerable age group
In the United States, young adult and teen suicide is the third leading cause of death for those between ages 10 and 24, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Global School-based Student Health Survey conducted in the Philippines in 2003, 2007 and 2011 by the World Health Organization found that…[pq]…approximately 1 in every 5 Filipino students in public high schools aged 13 to 15 has seriously considered attempting suicide. About 1 in 10 actually attempt suicide.[/pq]
The State Adolescent Health Resource Center of the Konopka Institute, University of Minnesota explains that young adults and late teens are in the stage of development in which they develop a sense of self as an individual and as a person, moving from identifying themselves as an extension of their parents (childhood) to recognizing their uniqueness and separation from their parents.
Yellowbrick warns that “young adults and late teens may be closed-off and unwilling to talk with their parents or other influential adults.”
Tips for parents
Yellowbrick offers the following tips parents can use to support young adults going through depression or who may be having suicidal thoughts:
1. Look for warning signs.
Although studies show that there is no reliable indicator for impending suicide, there are warning signs an emerging adult is at risk for suicide. These include:
• Expressions of despair
2. Watch out for mental illness.
Any form of mental illness, such as depression (especially bipolar depression), can increase a young adult’s risk of suicide. Individuals with anorexia nervosa have a high rate of suicide and death due to the effects of starvation on mood and judgment.
People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that is far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively.
Anorexia nervosa is more common among female teenagers. According to the Mayo Clinic, teenagers may be more susceptible because of all of the changes their bodies go through during puberty. They also may face increased peer pressure and may be more sensitive to criticism or even casual comments about weight or body shape.
3. Be aware that substance abuse and addiction significantly increase suicide risk.
Smoking, drinking alcohol and use of illicit drugs (e.g. marijuana, shabu, etc.) accelerate the risk of suicide from other mental illness while also carrying a three-fold higher rate of death than suicide from accidental overdose.
The 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS) showed that 1 in 5 Filipinos aged between 15 and 24 years smokes while 1 in 3 drinks alcohol. Metro Manila recorded the highest proportion of youth smokers (27 percent). Only four percent or 767 of the 19,178 survey respondents admitted to using illegal drugs.
4. Check your family history and your children’s friends
Many forms of mental illness and addictions have a genetic component, i.e. they can be inherited. As such, a family history of suicide is a risk factor. Peer influences can also increase a young adult’s risk of suicide.
How to support a young adult who has attempted suicide
Parents need to keep a close watch on a young adult who has attempted suicide. Young adults who have tried to take their own life are at increased risk of making another suicide attempt.
A warning from Yellowbrick: “Feelings of shame and guilt triggered by the suicide attempt may increase actual or perceived social isolation and personal failure, which can heighten pre-existing emotional tensions in a young adult. Feelings of irreparable isolation and/or loss are a key driver of suicide.”
After a failed suicide attempt, many individuals feel intensely ashamed, guilty, and isolated. Parents need to be absolutely non-judgmental, demonstrate acceptance, and offer support. Empathy is key, particularly if the young adult is angry he or she survived the suicide attempt, which is common among suicide survivors.
Instead of feeling responsible for “reading” the young adult’s mind, parents should establish safe, honest and open communications to allow their child to come forward for help. They should help their child repair and sustain connections with others and enable their child to return to activities that offer a sense of meaning and competence.
“Parents should seek professional assistance to understand the emotional and neurobiological contributors to the young adult’s experience that resulted in the suicide attempt,” Yellowbrick says.
Operating from a research-based care model that combines cutting-edge neuroscience, innovative psychotherapies, rehabilitation strategies and wellness medicine, Yellowbrick isdedicated to providing a full-spectrum, specialized approach to the emotional, psychological and developmental challenges of emerging young adults.
– Eric Michael Santos, Medical Observer