Today we are going to talk about a topic that is triggering to many, foreign to most, and becoming too familiar for others. We are going to talk about suicide and we are going to talk about it from the lens of it being utilized as a coping skill for teenagers. Often times when we think about suicide we think things like, this person doesn’t wanna live anymore, they want to just prove a point, and a host of other myths out there about suicide. However, more recently we’ve seen an influx in black youth dying by suicide. Many people have asked me why do I think this influx is occurring and how do we prevent it. Firstly, we have to address how suicide is seen through the teen lens. This, of course, is important because so often when we think of teen issues, we are only framing them from an adult or childlike perspective. This is our greatest mistake when attempting to understand teen issues.
Suicide by definition is the intentional act of killing yourself, most often as a result of depression or other mental illness according to the American Psychological Association.
When we look at situations that teenagers are experiencing and how suicide becomes an option, we have to take a few steps back into the history of suicide in the black community. I would like to start with the concept that suicide has always been considered something that “white people do“. This conceptualization has allowed room for being ignorant of suicidal feelings and or thoughts to be dismissed. With this mindset, we have deemed suicide to not be an action that black people use to deal with stress or do at all. Conversely, we have also shut out an array of other healthy coping skills as well. This has led us to the epic paradigm shift of black youth using suicide as a coping skill. In today’s society, we have more access to media, peoples lives, and information. With this access, teens have been able to identify and or find ways to cope with their stress. This is actually a good thing when we think about it because now they can utilize some researching skills to make their lives better. The downfall of this unlimited access is that they still do not have parental support and guidance to help them navigate all of the information they are receiving. Suicide is one of those things that they need help navigating. Teenagers are often overlooked and their feelings neglected by those that can support them and walk them through tough times. Human interaction is still needed although they are developing their own opinions about life.
To the teenage brain, everything is dramatic and has a grave effect on them. Without their prefrontal cortex fully developed, they aren't able to logically consider their feelings and thoughts. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the cerebral cortex covering the front part of the frontal lobe. This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. Is this making more sense now? I hope so. To color this more, they feel stress more intensely and thinking things out isn't their initial brain response. This can lead them to view suicide as a strategy and not a permanent decision. The goal is just to get out of this immediate situation that feels like a million bricks.
A coping skill is defined as an action, a series of actions, or a thought process used in meeting a stressful or unpleasant situation or in modifying one’s reaction to such a situation. Coping strategies typically involve a conscious and direct approach to problems. See how suicide is being used as one? To many of us think this is way too drastic to be considered a coping strategy, however, it is still, by definition, a coping strategy.
I am encouraging adults to engage more with their teen using less judgment that stems from fear. Suicide is preventable. The issue is many are too busy dismissing the signs. If you or your teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts, utilize your nearest crisis center if your child is not currently being clinically treated. Also, post the following resources somewhere in a general location in case your teen needs to access it. This will also help them notice that you are open to this conversation if they ever decide to share their feelings with you.
Interested in knowing if your teen is suicidal? Check out this website.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
Text RISE to 741741
Do not dismiss your teen's feelings!
With love from your favorite teen therapist,