Teenagers and college students live in tumultuous times. Physical changes, high school graduation, going off to college, moving away from the parents — all of these things can cause personality and mood changes in young adults. So how does one know the difference between “normal” bouts of depression, sadness and erratic behavior, and what could potentially be a red flag for suicidal tendencies?
Every 15 minutes (about the amount of time that it takes to down a cup of coffee) one person will commit suicide, according to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Many of these deaths could have been prevented by intervention from those close to the victims, but often the warning signs were ignored because the subject is awkward, according to Mary Ann Camann, PhD, an associate professor at the WellStar School of Nursing at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta.
“Let’s face it: Mental illness is stigmatized because we still don’t know all the causes and it’s also seen as something that can’t be overcome,” Camann said. “There are some of the signs and symptoms. But there’s not an absolute profile that you can use to put a template on somebody.”
Suicide is thought to be the second leading cause of death to college students, says Chris Owens, Metro-Atlanta area director for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“If you have a friend and you’re thinking, ‘I wonder if they’re thinking about taking their life,’ it’s OK to ask them,” Owens said, adding that it is important not to leave that person alone, and to get them help.
There are several warning signs that indicate a person intends to hurt him, or herself.
“Look for people who change their moods from being happy-go-lucky or pretty stable, to having more volatile moods or being more isolated or sad,” Camann said. “There’s a fine line between saying ‘I’m concerned about you’ and badgering somebody.”
The National Institute of Mental Health advises trying to get the person to seek immediate help from his or her doctor, the nearest hospital emergency room, or by calling 911. Also, eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.
Another tool to help potential victims is The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s interactive, online screening program that asks a series of questions. Participants then receive a telephone call from an actual counselor to discuss their issues. The foundation also provides a hotline run by mental-health professionals — not volunteers — so people at risk of suicide can discuss their issues and get help.