Today we are going to talk about a topic that is triggering to most, 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 a coping skill for teenagers. When we think about suicide, we often think things like, this person doesn’t want to live anymore, they want to prove a point, and a host of other myths out there about suicide. However, more recently, we’ve seen an influx of black youth dying by suicide. Many people have asked me why I think this influx is occurring and how we prevent it. Firstly, we have to address how suicide is seen through the teen lens. Of course, it is vital because so often, when we think of teen issues, we are only framing them from an adult or childlike perspective. 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 want 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 not to be an action that black people use to deal with stress or do at all. Conversely, we have shut out an array of other healthy coping skills as well. The shut-out 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 the media, people’s lives, and information. With this access, teens can identify and or find ways to cope with their stress. This is a good thing when we think about it because now they can utilize research 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. Overlooking teenagers and feelings lead to neglect by those that can support them and walk them through tough times. Human interaction is still required, although they are developing their own opinions about life.
To the teenage brain, everything is dramatic and has a grave effect on them. Without the prefrontal cortex fully developed, teens 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 coordinates 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. The difference in brain response can lead them to view suicide as a strategy and not a permanent decision. The goal is to get out of this immediate situation that feels like a million bricks.
A coping skill is defined as an action, a series of steps, 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 teens, using less judgment that stems from fear. Suicide is preventable. The issue is many are too busy dismissing the signs. If your teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts, utilize your nearest crisis center if your child is not currently clinically treated. Also, post the following resources somewhere in a general location in case your teen needs to access it. This open information will also help them notice that you are free to have this conversation if they 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,