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Our Opinion: Be alert to signs of suicidal behavior

Few people are aware of it, but hardly a day slips by in our Mid-Missouri community that someone, somewhere, doesn’t attempt suicide. 

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. It’s more prevalent than people think, and young people are particularly vulnerable. According to one survey, more than 1 in 6 female high school students reported they seriously considered it in 2012. College students coping with sexual and gender identity issues are among the most at risk. 

Although the number of suicides among older Missouri veterans declined, the number of very young veterans — 24 years old and younger — who took their own lives nearly doubled between 1995 and 2006.

And firearms are the primary means young people choose to end their lives. 

But suicide is preventable.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, young people contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help. But most importantly, psychologists warn, people should never brush off such warning signs or promise to keep them secret. 

Warning signs include talking about wanting to die and looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online to buy a gun. People who are considering taking their own lives often talk about feeling hopeless, trapped or in unbearable pain. They lament being a burden to others. They might start drinking more or using drugs. It’s not unusual to see them act anxious, agitated, exhibit mood swings and behave recklessly. Sleeping too much or too little is common. They also might be enraged and talk about revenge. 

Young people are unlikely to seek help directly. However, it’s possible for people who care to recognize the signs and take immediate steps to intervene. Here’s what you can do: 

• Remain calm, don’t judge and listen. 

• Ask the young person directly if they are considering suicide.

• Provide constant supervision and do not leave the person alone.

• Remove the means for self-harm.

• Parents should seek help from school and community mental health resources as soon as possible. 

• Reassure them that you care for their well being and they will not feel this way forever.

• Avoid assuming the behavior is attention-seeking.

Suicide is a catastrophe not only for the person who dies, it’s a tragedy for everyone who knew and loved him or her. By being more tuned in to each other’s mental weather, and caring for one another more deeply, we can save the people in our lives from despair.

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