The Teen Suicide Pandemic
There is a pandemic affecting adolescents that has been growing in severity for decades, without the coverage or attention that it deserves. Suicide is a hard subject to talk about, and in many cultures speaking of any mental illness or problem includes the connotation that those struggling mentally are defective members of society, overreacting to small problems, or a potential threat to the general population. Yet for the global population of teens ages 15 to 19, suicide is the third leading cause of death after road injury and interpersonal violence (1). This is a serious topic that should not be minimized. Here are some of the staggering statistics of the teen suicide pandemic:
- Out of 38 member nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea has ranked first in teen suicides since 2003; it is the leading cause of death for South Korean teens (2).
- About one out of five teens in South Africa attempt suicide (3).
- In England and Wales, teen suicide rates increased by 7.9% in just seven years and continue to rise every year (4).
- In the USA, one of every three teen deaths is caused by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death for American adolescents (5).
Suicide is serious, devastating, and grieves God, especially when it involves His children. Adolescents are faced with the daily struggles of changing physically, learning constantly, discovering their identity, and developing social skills, with added pressures from families, friends, schools, and communities to mature quickly, take on more responsibilities, conform to peer social norms, and prioritize academics. Now add in the cultural stigmas of admitting to experiencing depression or anxiety, with a dash of, “You’ll be fine. Just work hard and push through,” and the cocktail of an existential crisis is complete. If the kids do not know how to cope with the crippling weight of these expectations, it is obvious they are going to find ways to escape.
Ending the pandemic of teen suicides may seem impossible, but Jesus declared that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27, CSB). He gives us the knowledge to identify suicide risk factors such as family strife, academic stress, abrupt life changes, trauma, a lack of access to mental health resources, mental illnesses, access to lethal means, and substance use (6). He also gives us the wisdom to introduce protective factors like community involvement, peer support programs, family financial security, spiritual affiliations, dedicated support systems from adults, coping skills and problem-solving skills, and access to mental health care (6, 7). Most importantly, God gives us His own strength through His Spirit to overcome the trials of the world.
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;” (Isaiah 40:30-31, ESV).
Teen suicide has been minimized by humankind for too long. For those that have survived adolescence and entered adulthood, it is time to protect future generations and help them know their worth, so they can have hope and strength to live out their God-given purposes. And for the teens who are reading this, know that you are worthy of life and designed by God to do wonderful things – the world needs you. Together, in Jesus’s name, we will conquer the teen suicide pandemic.
- Wasserman, D., Carli, V., Iosue, M., Javed, A., & Herrman, H. (2021). Suicide prevention in childhood and adolescence: A narrative review of current knowledge on risk and protective factors and effectiveness of interventions. Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, 13(3). https://doi.org/10.1111/appy.12452
- Kwak, C. W. & Ickovics, J. R. (2019). Adolescent suicide in South Korea: Risk factors and proposed multi-dimensional solution. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 43(1), 150-153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2019.05.027.
- Moleya, B. (2022, February 15). Number of teenagers committing suicide very concerning. IOL. Independent Online. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.iol.co.za/pretoria-news/news/number-of-teenagers-committing-suicide-very-concerning-414fade4-88c9-4772-a94c-1a2f8d5244b0.
- Bould, H., Mars, B., Moran, P., Biddle, L., & Gunnell, D. (2019). Rising suicide rates among adolescents in England and Wales. The Lancet, 394(10193), 116–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(19)31102-x
- Ivey-Stephenson, A. Z., Demissie, Z., Crosby, A. E., Stone, D. M., Gaylor, E., Wilkins, N., Lowry, R., & Brown, M. (2020). Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors Among High School Students – Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019. MMWR supplements, 69(1), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.su6901a6
- Bojan, M., Vincent, B., Hugues, P., Jean-Marc, G., & Priscille, G. (2021). Gender differences related to spirituality, coping skills, and risk factors of suicide attempt: A cross-sectional study of French adolescent inpatients. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12(1). http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.537383.
- Rasic, D., Kisely, S., & Langille, D. B. (2011). Protective associations of importance of religion and frequency of service attendance with depression risk, suicidal behaviours and substance use in adolescents in Nova Scotia, Canada. Journal of Affective Disorders, 132(3), 389-395. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2011.03.007.
Brittany Simer, LMSW, is a Licensed Master of Social Work with a specialty in Direct Practice for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders. She has experience using trauma-informed therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness, and acceptance and commitment therapy. As a social worker, Brittany uses a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach when working with clients in order to address all of the systems that influence each individual’s wellbeing. Brittany has helped clients with anxiety, depression, insomnia, grief and loss, family of origin issues, trauma, relational conflicts, academic/work stress, financial stress, boundary setting, guilt and shame, eating disorders, addictions, suicidal ideation, time management issues, and more.