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Youth Suicide - let's talk prevention!

Updated: Jun 2

National Youth Week is an annual week long celebration of our youth in Australia between the ages of 12 – 25, which is why it is exceptionally hard to talk about the topic of Youth Suicide!


Please be aware that the information and graphics in this blog may be disturbing and you may need to consider before reading further.


Our young people are our future.

Over the course of time in my business, I have had the pleasure of working with many educators and the amazing young teens/young adults that attend a range of public and private schools in Southeast Queensland.


I am privileged that these young people I meet, allow me into the inner sanctum of their worlds and I get to hear first-hand some of the struggles and challenges that they are encountering. Unsurprisingly, often these conversations are not ones they are having with their parents!


From what I hear, is that growing up for some of our young people is difficult and becoming increasingly stressful during the pandemic.


Did you know that suicide is the leading cause of death for our young people?*

We are going to explore the serious conversations about why this is happening.

girl-contemplating-suicide
The leading cause of death for our youth is suicide*- you can be a part of the solution and learn about prevention

In 2020, over one-third of deaths occurred by suicide among young Australians aged 15-24. An alarming 99 lost their lives to suicide as young as 5 years old through to 17 years old* Let that sink in – as young as 5 years old!!

young-girl
I don't know about you, but i find it unfathomable that a 5 year old child would take their own life
  • How can this occur?

  • Why is this happening?

  • What can be done?

  • How can you help?

It helps to understand what the Risk factors are for suicide. Remembering, it is complex, all-encompassing and very individual to the person.


It may because of one or a combination of reasons* (this list is not exhaustive):


  • Substance abuse (alcohol and illicit drugs)

  • Relationship breakdowns and problems

  • History of childhood abuse (sexual, emotional and/or psychological)

  • Recent life stressors and impacts (e.g. the floods we have seen on the East Coast of Australia)

  • Mental Health issues

  • Grief

  • Unemployment

  • Homelessness

  • Legal issues

  • A history of self-harming

girl-drunk-on-kitchen-bench
There may be one or a combination of reasons that our youth engage in self-harming behaviours

Amongst all males and females, the most identified risk factor was the ‘personal history of self-harm’.* Though not the single risk factor for suicide, it is notably the highest risk factor for our youth.


The highest risk factor for our youth!


It presents itself in many forms and it affects people from all walks of life, irrespective of cultural backgrounds, age or lifestyles.


When a person self-harms it is considered a means to deliberating injuring or hurting oneself.


Here is something that is very important - it may or may not be done with the intent of dying. The risk here is that they may 'accidentally' die in the process of self-harm.


girl-fading-away
Often self-harming is not done with the intent of dying - they may 'accidentally die' in the process.

The key message is that whilst many people who self-harm do not go on to suicide, those who have engaged in previous self-harm are at the greatest risk for suicide.


This gives us an opportunity to do what we can to help from the first moment of engaging in self-harm or emerging thoughts of self-harm.


Our young people engage in self-harm for varied and often complex reasons. So let's take a deeper dive to try to understand more.

What is Self-harm?

Perhaps you already know of a young teen or young adult who is engaging in self-harm?


It may be that they are cutting themselves (often in places that aren't 'seen' to others - think thighs, arms covered by long sleeves), burning, biting or scratching their skin.


Wrist wrapped with a bandage that says help

It may not be in the form of harming the skin, it may be undertaking dangerous acts or very risky behaviours, which may include overdosing on drugs and/or alcohol, or overdosing on prescription meds.


Person overdosed on drugs

I regularly teach youth about emergency First Aid for these situations that have and do occur during events such as Schoolies week - let me tell you - those candid conversations during training are eye-opening!

Why do our young people engage in Self-Harm?


Cast your mind back to when you were young.


Do you remember how it felt at school when a peer teased you (maybe you were bullied?), or how it felt when you broke up with your first love or when your parents fought? Perhaps you felt your parents were all consumed about your academic progress, however not very emotionally connected to you? Maybe your childhood was traumatic, with a history of childhood abuse or grew up in a domestic violent environment.

parents-fighting-young-girl-distressed
Think back to the emotional pain you may have experienced whilst growing up

How did you cope with the emotional pain?


When growing up there is a lot going on in terms of processing emotions and if we fast forward to today, we find ourselves in a really crazy paced world, encompassed in a swarm of negative media, with social media holding an unhealthy, tight grip on the majority of us (if we are being brutally honest!). That's not including the many life stressors just outlined above.

phone-displaying-social-media
Social Media is all encompassing and has an unhealthy grip on the majority of us

To top that off - we are currently in a pandemic that is reshaping our lives today and moving into the future.


It is seemingly relentless and inescapable.


Often self-harm is a behaviour used in an attempt to manage and respond to:

  • emotional (and/or physical) pain,

  • distress or

  • overwhelming feelings

Have you ever spoken with our youth about self-harm?

young-man-feeling-overwhelmed
Chat to our youth - find out how they are feeling. Listen carefully to what they say.

They describe the actual physical pain of self-harming as a way to release some of the emotional pain or tension they feel building inside them. In their world, it is soothing and some say that it brings a sense of 'control' back into their life.


Once these behaviours start, it may escalate to injuring themselves more severely or taking greater risk in order to 'manage the emotional pain or release tension'. This heightens the risk further, as taking these steps to 'feel', inches closer and closer to potential 'accidental' suicide, suicidal thoughts or suicide.


What if this is happening to you right now?

There are many strategies for a young one to do themselves that they might find helpful:


I refer to it as the 4D's (as found on the Lifeline website).

  • Delay

  • Distract

  • Divert

  • Deep Breathing

We will take a look though to how we can help as well. The earlier we look at prevention, the greater potential for a better outcome.


As a parent, a family member or a friend, it is truly devastating to watch a young person feel so pained, that they resort to self-harming as a way to cope with their life. It can take a person down into the rabbit hole and they may spend many years trying to find their way out and sadly without support, some don't ever find their way out.


A person who may be self-harming


Who is this happening to?


Our young people have the highest rate of hospitalisation for intentional self-harm and is the highest for females aged between 15-19 years old*. Mums' and Dads' - take note of that.

young-teen-depressed
Whilst behaviours such as self-harming affects both males and females - it is highest for females between 15 - 19 years old*- a critical time in their life.

More alarmingly, the rates for hospitalisation for intentional self-harm is on the rise (2019-2020)*.


This is very concerning. This could mean that the risk is increasing.


What if we (i.e. parents, family members, educators and the community) could do more to support or instill self-care strategies to assist with suicide prevention?

lend-a-helping-hand
What can we do to help? Read on to discover what you can do to lend a helping hand.

Prevention of Youth Suicide: What does this look like and how can we all help?


Community is very important - as a part of the COVID experience (for want of a better description) we grappled with the loss of sense of community and for some, even disconnected socially.


This has made the challenges faced even more difficult and isolating. As a community this is where we can reconnect and join together to help our youth. As a part of that, we will also look to our own self-care.


self-care-isn't-selfish-sign
Self-care for all and for our carers is incredibly important

We asked Meghan Kurts: Resilience and Recovery specialist/Mental Health program facilitator for some insights.

This is what she had to say:


When it comes to recovery it's never a simple task.


At times, it takes superhuman effort to be with all of the difficult feelings - every single one of them.


It is natural and human for things to get ugly and messy at times. Going through it alone is not an option, if you want sustained recovery.


Meghan is a survivor of 9 deaths in 6 years

Prevention is always the better course of action.

In order to be mentally and emotionally available, to notice the signs around us, we need to develop and maintain our own self awareness. In order for you to have the capacity to truly be there for others, your own Self-Care needs to be prioritised. The stakes are high and people's lives depend on it.

Looking upwards to a group of teens

I also spoke with a friend who works as a Guidance Counsellor at a school and below are her insights:


Sadly I see too many kids self harming with suicidal ideations. Often with the self harm, the students disclose they do it because it helps them cope with life.


Some have been sexually abused, some are neglected and some are riddled with anxiety and depression. In my job, we must really get to know these kids and deep dive into who they are, past histories and their triggers, so we can make a safety plan to keep them safe.


Teachers have access to these support plans, so we all work as a team, keeping this 'little person' safe.


There is a desperate shortage of external counselling services and sadly as a school counsellor, we do not have the capacity to do long term, ongoing counselling, which is what these kids so desperately need.


The government needs to put more funding into the support of mental health for our youth. It is a pandemic, too many young lives have been lost to suicide.


self-care-sign

Let's reflect here - "in order to be mentally and emotionally available, to notice the signs around us, we need to develop and maintain our own self-awareness".


As an educator who is witness first hand to the emerging signs of considerable distress in our youth, I urge mums, dads, uncles, aunts, friends, sisters, brothers, nans, pops, family, to unite, be a part of the wellbeing/self-care journey and partake in the many programs available to you. Our community needs to take action.

First step is awareness - in yourself, so you are best prepared to help others. Let's work together and help our youth by adopting these wellbeing measures ourselves and extending our support as a community to prevent vulnerable youth from falling down that rabbit hole! It is our responsibility to become more attuned to what is happening around us, so that we can work together to focus on Youth Suicide Prevention.


We are here to help you.


  • Mental Health Awareness

  • Essential Communication

  • Self-Care/Recovery and Resilience


Complete program guide for Mental Health and Well-being
.pdf
Download PDF • 4.42MB


Please reach out today to connect and find out how we can support you and your loved ones. Together our aim is to shift the focus from self-harm to self-care through education and action.


This is not a journey you need to do on your own and learning prevention strategies is a way we can all support for a brighter future.


If you are reading this blog and find you are in need of immediate support, please reach out to Lifeline Crisis support line - 13 11 14.





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*Research from Australian Government - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)

Use of Mental Health Services (increased demand for Mental Health Services and crisis and support organisations in 2020 and 2021) - AIHW

Pattern of Suicide in the context of COVID-19 - Evidence of 3 Australian States (Commissioned by University of Melbourne) - AIHW

Research from - Health Direct (a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice)

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