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Two Faces of Teen Suicide – by Rodger Dinwiddie, Executive Director


“In this country a teen commits suicide every 100 minutes according to a national suicide-prevention website” the Tennessean reported last week.  Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15-24. Only car accidents and homicides kill more people in this age range. Certainly the rise in teen suicides in the country is being directly impacted by the difficulties families are experiencing during this deep recession.  It is hard enough being a teen in this ever changing world, and even more challenging during this tumultuous time in our nations’ history. The recent death of Marie Osmond’s 18 year old son, the result of suicide, has brought additional attention to this very difficult issue.

There seems to be at least two types of suicidal youth according to; young people who attempt or complete suicide impulsively and those who are chronically depressed.

While no one can be for certain why there has been an increase in teen suicide, there has been a steady climb the last 5 years. While the numbers of teen suicides have increased experts do agree that in nearly 90% of the successful youth suicides there were warning signs and indications that depression and other risk factors were present.  Beyond the added stressors of and constant worries of  family financial pressure and stability,  the recent report of a rise in substance abuse by young people has created additional risks of suicidal ideation and attempts. Factors that cause some young people to be more at risk of suicide might also include a previous attempt, family members who have committed suicide, inpatient hospital treatment for psychiatric problems, recent losses and lingering grief, as well as overly stressful and chaotic/violence filled families and environments. According to some of the warning signs include:

  • Disinterest in favorite extracurricular activities 
  • Problems at work and losing interest in a job 
  • Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug (illegal and legal drugs) use
  • Behavioral problems 
  • Withdrawing from family and friends 
  • Sleep changes 
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Begins to neglect hygiene and other matters of personal appearance 
  • Emotional distress brings on physical complaints (aches, fatigues, migraines) 
  • Hard time concentrating and paying attention 
  • Declining grades in school
  • Loss of interest in schoolwork 
  • Risk taking behaviors 
  • Complains more frequently of boredom 
  • Does not respond as before to praise

One of the solutions to youth suicide is education about the warning signs and information about how to help young people who may be experiencing prolonged stress and depression.  There are many great online resources that provide valuable information, including and In Nashville and Tennessee there are tremendous resources available through the Tennessee State Suicide Prevention information network. And, STARS is pleased to partner with Hazelden, one of the leaders in treatment and educational resources for schools and community organizations in offering Lifelines, an evidenced-based suicide prevention program.  Lifelines address the whole school community by providing suicide awareness resources for school administrators, faculty and staff members, parents, and students. Information about suicide and the role of students in suicide prevention is presented in easy-to-follow lessons. In the process of teaching students how to help a friend, students who may be suicidal themselves learn the importance of getting help as well.  In our attempt to offer services to young people in the Middle Tennessee are we have formed partnerships with many community organizations who offer support to young people who are suffering as a result of family issues, depression, substance abuse and violence. Lifelines is one more tool to helps those who care for our young people have the best possible resources available. For more information about STARS and Lifelines, visit our website,  bookstore or call us at 615-279-0058.

STARS is deeply committed to creating a culture and work space that centers on the power of relationships, that values diversity of perspective and experience, and that honors the dignity, worth, and contributions of all.