Back to Top Skip to main content

Paying attention, knowing the signs: How teenagers can help save a life

Air Force Maj. William Logan, a chaplain with the 35th Fighter Wing, holds a picture of his son, Zac, who committed suicide. Suicide among teenagers remains a concern. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter) Air Force Maj. William Logan, a chaplain with the 35th Fighter Wing, holds a picture of his son, Zac, who committed suicide. Suicide among teenagers remains a concern. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter)

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Children's Health | Suicide Prevention

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Teenage years are filled with physical, mental, and emotional changes that can be difficult to manage. When these challenges outweigh a person’s ability to cope, suicide can become a risk, experts say. By understanding the warning signs and knowing where to go for support, teenagers can help prevent suicide among their peers.

Larry Pruitt, a clinical psychologist and program supervisor for the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, said warning signs include thinking or talking about suicide, seeking a way to harm oneself, increased substance abuse, and feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, or purposelessness. Changes such as becoming withdrawn, showing anger, becoming reckless, or having mood changes should also be noted, he added.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem,” said Pruitt. “Taking the time to pay attention to signs, listen and communicate, and then knowing what to do can help save a life.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940s, and it is the third leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10 and 24, with roughly 4,600 lives lost each year. A nationwide survey of high schools in the United States found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a suicide plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.

"Suicide and suicide-related behavior can occur as a part of – or (as a) result of – mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, as well as a great deal of difficulty coping with environmental stressors, such as breakups, bullying, abuse, loss, or other trauma," said Pruitt.

Military children and teenagers face unique challenges and stressors that may increase their risk for mental health conditions, and adolescents from military families are more likely to report suicidal ideation than those not from military families, according to TRICARE. One stressor includes deployment, as children whose parents deploy show increased anxiety, misconduct, and depressive symptoms.

Additional risk factors include family history of suicide, previous suicide attempts, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, family violence, chronic pain, depression, other mental disorders, and substance abuse disorder. If teenagers struggle with expressing feelings, they may mask indirect threats of suicide through comments, jokes, artwork, or schoolwork.

“Changes from an individual’s baseline, or the things you’d expect that person to do, can be a major warning sign,” said Pruitt, citing such examples as talking more about death or withdrawing from social situations, school activities, or other normal habits.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, talking about being a burden to others, giving away possessions, making a suicide plan and putting one’s affairs in order, engaging in risk-taking behaviors, and showing changes in eating or sleep habits can also be signs of suicidal behavior.

“People are often afraid to ask that difficult question of, ‘Hey I’ve noticed these changes in you; are you thinking of hurting yourself?’” said Pruitt. “Being bold enough to ask that question, really caring about the person’s response to that question, and knowing what to do next can make a significant difference.”

Pruitt recommends turning to an adult – a teacher, school counselor, or parent – and asking for help. One promise people should not make is to keep someone’s suicidal actions or thoughts a secret, he said.

“In teenagers especially, who are young and haven’t had as much experience with the world as adults, a lot of times their repertoire of coping behavior is not fully developed,” said Pruitt. “They need some assistance in identifying and engaging in those coping strategies.”

Help is available for children of service members who struggle with parents’ deployments or other stressors. TRICARE offers expanded mental health services, including outpatient and inpatient care. No referral or prior authorization is needed for most outpatient mental health and substance abuse disorder care, including therapy and counseling.

Resources are available through Military Kids Connect and each of the military services. Support is also available through the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-TALK (8255). Anyone faced with an emergency situation should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

“We have to be able to identify those who are suffering, encourage them to communicate, and do our best to help them,” said Pruitt. “The consequences of missing somebody who is in need of help, being afraid to ask questions, or not getting involved in somebody’s suffering can be catastrophic.”

You also may be interested in...

Back-to-school vaccinations in the age of coronavirus

Article
8/12/2020
Medical technician wearing a mask, filling an immunization needle

DHA experts answer questions about back-to-school vaccines

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Public Health | Preventive Health | Children's Health | Immunizations | August Toolkit

Innovative RX pad creates path for prescribing mobile health technology

Article
7/15/2020
Military health care provider demonstrates the use of the T2 Mood Tracker app to a patient.

Technology and healthcare are constantly evolving fields.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

For some, working from home brings neck and back pain

Article
7/10/2020
Chiropractor adjusting another man's back

"[T]he most common complaint of teleworkers is neck and upper back pain between the shoulder blades."

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

Summer’s here – stay safe!

Article
7/8/2020
Image of Coast Guard employee talking with man on boat

Remember these tips while enjoying the summer

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health | Summer Safety | July Toolkit | Total Force Fitness

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 7 - July 2020

Report
7/1/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Hearing conservation measures of effectiveness across the Department of Defense; Alcohol-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and co-occurring injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2009–2018; Surveillance snapshot: Cervical cancer screening among U.S. military service women in the Millennium Cohort Study, 2003–2015; Epidemiology of functional neurological disorder, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2000–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Public Health Emergency Officers balance risk and mission during crisis

Article
6/17/2020
Military personnel packing sanitizing products

PHEOs are military treatment facility staff who are designated to serve as a resource to help guide installation commanders during a large scale public health incident.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

Defending the Homeland: A Determined Descendant and a Navy Hospital's Response to COVID-19

Article
6/9/2020
Image of Navy captain, wearing a mask, standing next to a piece of paper on the wall

Althoff and her team at the Quality Management directorate serve as a locus of coordination for clinical support operations.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus

Defending the Homeland: NBHC Kingsville recognized as ‘Best of the Best’ for patient satisfaction

Article
6/8/2020
Image of two soldiers; one holding a bottle of hand sanitizer

The Best of the Best Report is updated quarterly, and contains the top performing clinics, providers, and clerks & receptionists.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | MHS Patient Satisfaction Surveys

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 6 - June 2020

Report
6/1/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, reserve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Letter to the editor: G6PD deficiency in the Tafenoquine era; Summary of the 2018–2019 influenza season among Department of Defense service members and other beneficiaries; Brief report: Direct care cost of heat illness to the Army, 2016–2018; Animal-related injuries in veterinary services personnel, U.S. Army, 2001–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

USU Aids Health Care Providers, Community in Pandemic

Article
5/27/2020
Image of two healthcare workers looking sad

USU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress provides fact sheets as a resource for providers and the community.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

Using mobile mental health apps to cope during social isolation

Article
5/22/2020
Soldier holding cell phone, showing app to another person

Learn how your smartphone can serve as a lifeline

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health | Mental Health Care | Depression | Connected Health | Total Force Fitness

Air Force bioenvironmental engineers expand mission in aerovac, workspaces

Article
5/21/2020
Military Captain and team cleaning large, plastic enclosed space

The aeromedical evacuation mission became a top priority as COVID-19 began to spread.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

Resuming Elective Surgical, Invasive, and Dental Procedures in Military Medical and Dental Treatment Facilities

Publication
5/19/2020

This memorandum provides guidance on how each Military Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) and Dental Treatment Facility (DTF) may resume elective medical and dental procedures.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 5 - May 2020

Report
5/1/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, reserve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, recruit trainees, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Medical evacuations out of the U.S. Central Command, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, deployed active and reserve component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, non-service member beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2019; Prevalence of selected underlying health conditions among active component Army service members with coronavirus disease 2019, 11 February–6 April 2020; Early use of ICD-10-CM code “U07.1, COVID-19” to identify 2019 novel coronavirus cases in Military Health System administrative data.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MHS pharmacies adapt services amid COVID-19

Article
4/28/2020
A pharmacy technician stands at a car window delivering medications while wearing a mask and gloves.

Curbside, drive-thru, parking lobbies among solutions for prescription pickup

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 31

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.