Back to Top Skip to main content

Paying attention, knowing the signs: How teenagers can help save a life

Air Force Maj. William Logan, a chaplain with the 35th Fighter Wing, holds a picture of his son, Zac, who committed suicide. Suicide among teenagers remains a concern. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter) Air Force Maj. William Logan, a chaplain with the 35th Fighter Wing, holds a picture of his son, Zac, who committed suicide. Suicide among teenagers remains a concern. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter)

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Children's Health | Suicide Prevention | September Toolkit

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Teenage years are filled with physical, mental, and emotional changes that can be difficult to manage. When these challenges outweigh a person’s ability to cope, suicide can become a risk, experts say. By understanding the warning signs and knowing where to go for support, teenagers can help prevent suicide among their peers.

Larry Pruitt, a clinical psychologist and program supervisor for the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, said warning signs include thinking or talking about suicide, seeking a way to harm oneself, increased substance abuse, and feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, or purposelessness. Changes such as becoming withdrawn, showing anger, becoming reckless, or having mood changes should also be noted, he added.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem,” said Pruitt. “Taking the time to pay attention to signs, listen and communicate, and then knowing what to do can help save a life.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940s, and it is the third leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10 and 24, with roughly 4,600 lives lost each year. A nationwide survey of high schools in the United States found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a suicide plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.

"Suicide and suicide-related behavior can occur as a part of – or (as a) result of – mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, as well as a great deal of difficulty coping with environmental stressors, such as breakups, bullying, abuse, loss, or other trauma," said Pruitt.

Military children and teenagers face unique challenges and stressors that may increase their risk for mental health conditions, and adolescents from military families are more likely to report suicidal ideation than those not from military families, according to TRICARE. One stressor includes deployment, as children whose parents deploy show increased anxiety, misconduct, and depressive symptoms.

Additional risk factors include family history of suicide, previous suicide attempts, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, family violence, chronic pain, depression, other mental disorders, and substance abuse disorder. If teenagers struggle with expressing feelings, they may mask indirect threats of suicide through comments, jokes, artwork, or schoolwork.

“Changes from an individual’s baseline, or the things you’d expect that person to do, can be a major warning sign,” said Pruitt, citing such examples as talking more about death or withdrawing from social situations, school activities, or other normal habits.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, talking about being a burden to others, giving away possessions, making a suicide plan and putting one’s affairs in order, engaging in risk-taking behaviors, and showing changes in eating or sleep habits can also be signs of suicidal behavior.

“People are often afraid to ask that difficult question of, ‘Hey I’ve noticed these changes in you; are you thinking of hurting yourself?’” said Pruitt. “Being bold enough to ask that question, really caring about the person’s response to that question, and knowing what to do next can make a significant difference.”

Pruitt recommends turning to an adult – a teacher, school counselor, or parent – and asking for help. One promise people should not make is to keep someone’s suicidal actions or thoughts a secret, he said.

“In teenagers especially, who are young and haven’t had as much experience with the world as adults, a lot of times their repertoire of coping behavior is not fully developed,” said Pruitt. “They need some assistance in identifying and engaging in those coping strategies.”

Help is available for children of service members who struggle with parents’ deployments or other stressors. TRICARE offers expanded mental health services, including outpatient and inpatient care. No referral or prior authorization is needed for most outpatient mental health and substance abuse disorder care, including therapy and counseling.

Resources are available through Military Kids Connect and each of the military services. Support is also available through the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-TALK (8255). Anyone faced with an emergency situation should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

“We have to be able to identify those who are suffering, encourage them to communicate, and do our best to help them,” said Pruitt. “The consequences of missing somebody who is in need of help, being afraid to ask questions, or not getting involved in somebody’s suffering can be catastrophic.”

You also may be interested in...

Fort Campbell soldiers shine light on suicide prevention

Article
9/22/2020
Woman wearing a mask, hugging her daughter

Annual walk hosted by BACH offers hope

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Suicide Prevention | September Toolkit

MHS immunization experts will answer questions about flu vaccine

Article
9/16/2020
Soldier giving another soldier a flu shot

Real-time Facebook event set for 3-4 p.m. EDT Sept. 17

Recommended Content:

Immunizations | Preventive Health | Public Health | Coronavirus

Sesame Street supports military families with health care transitions

Article
9/15/2020
Sesame Street character comforts a military child during a doctor visit.

This article introduces the new Sesame Street for Military Families: Transitions in Health Care section and how it can support military families as they transition to new health care providers.

Recommended Content:

Children's Health

Suicide impacts us all – but there is help!

Article
9/14/2020
Man at sporting event kissing his wife and baby

September marks Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention | Coronavirus | September Toolkit

Wildfire smoke wreaks havoc on respiratory and immune systems

Article
9/11/2020
Picture of a military tent; an orange, smoky hue surrounds the tent and soldiers

State and country health advisory alerts on diminished air quality have been posted and shared to alert local populations.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus

Thirteen years ago Ft. Knox prepared for outbreak scenarios

Article
9/10/2020
Front page of newspaper

Some of the preventive measures that surfaced from the 2007 exercise included the wearing of facial coverings, regular sanitizing of surfaces and social distancing by such means as teleworking.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

PREVENTS aimed at reducing Service Member and Veteran suicide

Article
9/9/2020
Group of airmen hugging each other

In our nation, suicide has increased by 33% over the last 25 years across all demographics.

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention | Mental Health Care | Warrior Care | September Toolkit | Total Force Fitness

Suicide Prevention Month: A message from CSM Michael Gragg

Video
9/3/2020
Suicide Prevention Month: A message from CSM Michael Gragg

Suicide Prevention Month: A message from CSM Michael Gragg

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention | Mental Health Care | September Toolkit

Army radiology instructor and medic render assistance to crash victim

Article
9/2/2020
Mom and Dad in military gear with their young son.

Their medical training helped with knowing the steps for CPR and how to check responsiveness and breathing.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Elective surgeries resume within the San Antonio Military Health System

Article
8/25/2020
Two surgeons in an operating room

Patients whose procedures were delayed will be contacted by their surgical team or clinic.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus

Suicide Awareness Month PSA 2020

Video
8/21/2020
Suicide Awareness Month PSA 2020

Video from the Co-Founder of Team Rubicon explaining why it is important for them to help veterans explore their options for mental health care.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Suicide Prevention | September Toolkit

Air Force invention kills toxins on contact

Article
8/20/2020
Man in white coat doing experiments

An Air Force invention could be key to reducing the amount of airborne microbes...inside buildings and homes.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus | Health and Housing | Mold | Health and Housing

NMHM looks back at the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ for one Maryland county

Article
8/19/2020
Black and white image of hospital beds lined up in rows, occupied by sick people

The 1918 flu resembled a more severe cold.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

Back-to-school vaccinations in the age of coronavirus

Article
8/12/2020
Medical technician wearing a mask, filling an immunization needle

DHA experts answer questions about back-to-school vaccines

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Public Health | Preventive Health | Children's Health | Immunizations | August Toolkit

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 8 - August 2020

Report
8/1/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Commentary: The limited role of vaccines in the prevention of acute gastroenteritis; Diarrhea and associated illness characteristics and risk factors among British active duty service members at Askari Storm training exercise, Nanyuki, Kenya, January–June 2014; Surveillance snapshot: Norovirus outbreaks in military forces, 2015–2019; Update: Incidence of acute gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2010–2019.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 31

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.