In the early morning hours of Monday, March 9th 2015, a Palo Alto High School Sophomore ended his life by stepping into the path of an oncoming train. He was 15 years old and he was the eighth Caltrain death in a year that has barely started. For comparison, there were seven teen suicides in the Palo Alto area all of last year.
Palo Alto is one of the wealthiest and best educated communities in California, but that has not stopped the recent spate of teen suicides. Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent, Glenn McGee, thinks he knows why. “Depression and mental health problems are so easy for kids to mask. Sometimes with high-achieving families we are brought up to suffer in silence.”
The Palo Alto Caltrain suicides have shed light on the fact that teen suicide is a growing concern. According to the U.S. Center for Disease control and Prevention, it’s the leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 (surpassed only by homicide and accidents). And it can be caused by psychological, environmental, or social factors.
Only by knowing how to recognize the warning signs can we truly take steps towards preventing teen suicide. According to www.suicideispreventable.org and the American Psychological Association (APA), some warning signs of suicide are:
Teens may withdraw from friends and family, stop talking to and doing things with others or stop engaging in activities they once enjoyed.
2) Changes in sleep
Sleep patterns may shift. This may include either sleeping more or struggling to sleep at all.
3) Reckless Behavior
Teens contemplating suicide may act in ways that could be dangerous or detrimental to their health, disregarding consequences and repercussions.
4) Personality Changes or Mood Changes
Personality changes may occur. Teens that were once outgoing and boisterous may become quiet and irritable. Teens that were once relaxed may present as anxious and stressed. Happiness changes to anger or sadness. Conversely, teens that are normally a little anxious become relaxed. Teens experiencing grief about a situation are suddenly happy.
5) Neglect of personal appearance
There is an unusual neglect of personal appearance, personal hygiene, or they stop caring about even basic grooming.
6) Physical Pain
This may include frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, etc.
7) Loss of interest
They lose interest in pleasurable activities they once enjoyed.
8) Giving away belongings
They give away favorite possessions or throw away belongings that were once important.
9) Substance Abuse
They are drinking alcohol or using other drugs.
A disbelief that things will change or that they are unable to overcome whatever stress they are experiencing.
If you recognize any of these signs, especially in a teen, please do not ignore them. Contact a mental health professional as soon as possible and we can help with pointing you in the right direction to get help.