While suicide prevention is important to address year-round, Suicide Prevention Week every September gives us time to pause, come together, and spread hope and information to our youth and caring adults.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 10- to 34-years of age, and the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. Like many other challenges, suicide disproportionately affects diverse youth: LGBTQ+ young people are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth, with at least one attempting to take their own life every 45 seconds in the United States.American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have the highest rates of suicide of any racial/ethnic group in the country. The rates of suicide in this population have been increasing since 2003.
Youth suicide is a difficult topic to address, however research has shown that when warning signs are noticed in time, referrals to mental health services can save lives. Our BlueSky initiative is one such resource that provides mental health supports for youth to promote emotional well-being.
Know the signs
Pain isn’t always obvious. Yet four out of five teens who are considering suicide show some warning signs. Changes in behavior may appear in conversations, through their actions, or in social media posts. The signs include (but are not limited to):
- Talking about dying: any mention of dying or means of suicide
- Recent loss: death of a friend or loved one, broken relationships, loss of activities previously enjoyed
- Change in personality and behavior
- Change in sleep patterns and eating habits
- Fear of losing control
- Low self-esteem
- No hope for the future
Listen and take action
Once you observe these warning signs, especially if the behavior is new or related to a traumatic event, do not stand by. Try to create a safe space for your child or student and share that you are open to listening.
Similar to a physical injury, mental health warning signs require a first-aid approach. BlueSky is working with the California Department of Education to train public school educators in Youth Mental Health First Aid to help youth who may be experiencing emotional distress. Since 2019, we have supported training of nearly 3,500 educators and caring adults about how to recognize signs, to offer help, and connect to professional care. Resources for educators and information about trainings can be found here. Here are some tips from the first aid training:
Be direct. Ask your child/student, “Are you thinking about suicide?” And secondly, “What is your plan?” Knowing these answers can assist professionals who many conduct a risk assessment later.
Make it difficult. Research has shown that restricting access to lethal means (ammunition, medication) – known as “means restriction” – can saves lives.
Talk about it. Make the time to talk with your child if you notice any warning signs. Let them know that you are comfortable talking about any topic, including suicide; and should they ever come to a point where they are questioning their reasons for living, you will be there to listen and support them. Consult your family doctor for resources specific to your child’s needs. There are medical interventions, support groups, and clinical care that can help your family with suicide prevention.
Ask for help. One bright spot from a recent BlueSky survey is that youth say they are speaking up about their concerns and discussing their mental health with others, demonstrating important help-seeking behavior.
Take a look at this PSA, “Dandelion,” by high school senior Justin Toyoshiba, who won in the BlueSky-sponsored Directing Change Film Contest suicide prevention category. He used the flower to symbolically remind youth “that asking for help is courageous.”
Other mental health resources are listed below, and at BlueSky.
National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741)
Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky and the Child Mind Institute offer parents these supportive guides to address youth mental health needs.
David Bond, LCSW, is director of behavioral health for Blue Shield of California. He is a board-certified expert in traumatic stress and has more than ten years of experience as a youth psychotherapist. Prior to Blue Shield of California, Bond held a leadership position at The Trevor Project, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky Initiative enhances access, awareness, and advocacy of youth mental health supports in collaboration with the California Department of Education and leading nonprofit