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In 2010, Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the Washington Bridge. The incident not only caused a wild stir on social media but also sent the world on a deep reflection on the subject of teen suicide. Clementi had been a victim of cyberbullying because of his sexuality. This case was not an isolated one. In recent times, the number of adolescent suicides has risen, thus making the topic a major concern. In the United States, adolescent suicide ranks third in the causes of teenage deaths, coming only behind accidents and homicide. Psychologists have embarked on a mission to unearth the factors that lead to suicides by adolescents. This paper will examine these factors, paying attention to contributors such as circumstances, parenting styles, and mental illnesses.
Different factors contribute to adolescent suicide. These factors may be mental, environmental, or biological. Mental factors include stress and psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety. However, challenges arise because no particular mental disorder is differentially predictive of suicide. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), all mental disorders, including anxiety and panic disarray, increase the likelihood of committing suicide.
On the other hand, environmental factors related to conditions that are outside a person’s control. Such conditions may cause him or her to feel sad or uncomfortable. For the case of adolescents, these factors may include being bullied in school or a relationship loss. Biological factors related to the genetic disposition of a person toward committing suicide. Suicidal behavior often results from an underlying mental condition.
These factors may work together or collectively in contributing to suicide. Understanding factors that contribute to suicide helps to prevent future cases of the menace. Psychiatrists understand the causes of suicide by studying suicidal behavior.
Suicidal behavior constitutes the heterogeneous consequences of suicidal attempt and suicidal ideation (courts et al., 2011). Whether suicide will be committed or not depends on factors such as sex, age, the availability of a means. Masi and Brovedani (2011) reveal how men and women usually approach suicide differently. While women often plan for some time before committing suicide, men rarely engage in pre-planning before committing suicide. As a result, suicidal behavior in women is easier to identify and prevent compared to the situation in men. In addition, because men often use aggressive means to commit suicide, their acts are likely to result in suicidal ideation relative to the case in women.
The rate of unplanned suicides has been on the increase. This situation may lead to difficulties in detecting suicidal ideation, thus causing more cases to become unpreventable. This trend may be linked to non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). NSSI is the deliberate self-harm that has no link to suicide. Nevertheless, as a person engages several in NSSI, he or she becomes less afraid of injury, pain, and even death. Eventually, individuals may become predisposed to unplanned suicide because they are not afraid of death. This finding is supported by another study, which established that majority of planned suicides are never carried out (Hawton, Saunders, & O’Connor, 2012). Therefore, NSSI may be an indicator that the adolescent is planning to commit suicide.
According to Andover, Morris, Wren, and Bruzzese (2012), understanding circumstances that predispose individuals to commit suicide can lead to better intervention strategies aimed at preventing suicide. Circumstances are usually indicated by the situation that an adolescent was going through before arriving at a decision to commit or attempt suicide. Circumstances that precipitate suicide in adolescents vary from one individual to another. However, researchers have established the common circumstances, including relationship problems, school tribulations and intimate partner, and substance abuse (Karch, Logan, McDaniel, Floyd, & Vagi, 2013).
Relationship failure may drive adolescents to suicidal ideation. This case is common where the relationship is of an intimate nature and/or has ended up in a break up (Karch et al., 2013). According to Karch et al. (2013), the rate of suicide because of a failed relationship in adolescents is higher relative to that of adults. Adolescents demonstrate a lower capability to rationalize a difficult situation compared to adults. The reason for this observation may be because their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed (Pandey et al., 2012).
School problems include poor grades, being bullied, and failing to ‘fit in.’ Bullying is a major cause of depression in adolescents. It may drive them to commit suicide. Holt et al. (2015) reveal a strong link between bullying and suicidal behavior. Victims of bullying may become despondent when they cannot find help about their situation. Interestingly, bullying perpetrators are also likely to commit suicide compared to normal adolescents (Holt et al., 2015).
Bullying often indicates an underlying psychological problem for both the bully and the perpetrator. Poor academic performance can also lead to adolescent suicide. Poor grades can lead to depression, which in turn predisposes the adolescent to suicidal thoughts. This situation can become worse if the adolescent is not supported from home, instead of being scolded for the poor grades. Moving to a new school can also cause a teenager to become depressed if they fail to fit in.
Researchers have identified a link between parenting styles and suicide (Donath, Graessel, Baier, Bleich, & Hillemacher, 2014). Parenting styles include authoritarian, authoritative, and rejecting-neglecting techniques. According to Donath et al. (2014), children with authoritarian and rejecting-neglecting parents have a higher risk of engaging in risky behaviors compared o those with authoritative parents. Authoritarian parenting can also lead to children having low self-esteem. Donath et al. (2014) found that children with authoritarian parents are more likely to have suicidal ideation relative to children with authoritative parents.
Authoritative parents are more likely to have efficient communication with their adolescent children, thus helping them to stay out of depression. Donath et al. (2014) assert that adolescents with separated parents have a higher risk of committing suicide compared to a situation where the parents live together. The same situation is expected where one parent is dead. According to Donath et al. (2014), male adolescents are more affected by the separation/loss of one parent relative to female adolescents.
Mental Illness and Depression
According to Tuisku et al. (2014), all mental illnesses predispose an individual to commit suicide. Common mental illnesses include depression, schizophrenia, and panic and anxiety disorder. Depression, particularly, has been identified as the leading cause of suicide in adolescents (Tuisku et al., 2014). Depression is described as the feeling of intense despondency by a victim. Olvera, Williamson, Fisher-Hoch, Vatcheva, and McCormick (2015) found that depression affects 15% of the world’s population.
While adults are more capable of handling depression, teenagers may often resort to drastic measures when confronted with acute depression. Depression in adolescents may result from challenges at home or in school. Adolescents who have had experience with domestic violence are more likely to commit suicide relative to those from normal families. Additionally, being bullied, ridiculed at school, and poor academic grades can drive adolescents to suicide.
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Schizophrenia is another cause of suicide among adolescents. Schizophrenia refers to a mental disorder, which causes the victim to have distorted reality. The World Health Organization has established that suicide is the leading cause of death among people with schizophrenia (Kasckow et al., 2014).
The instances are higher in teenagers, with suicide often occurring during the early stages of this illness. According to Kasckow et al. (2014), 50% of suicide cases by people with schizophrenia occur within two years of diagnosis. Alcoholism and substance use can raise the risk of suicide for people with schizophrenia. As Kasckow et al. (2014) reveal, male schizophrenics are at a higher risk of attempting suicide compared to their female counterparts. Risk factors for suicide in people with schizophrenia include previous attempts, hopelessness, and psychotic symptoms.
Suicide is the third cause of death among adolescents in the US. Factors that lead to adolescent suicide include mental illnesses, biological conditions, and environmental factors. Circumstances that precipitate suicide in adolescents include relationship challenges and school problems such as bullying. Parenting styles can also contribute to suicidal ideation, with the children of authoritarian and rejecting-negative parents contributing to their children’s suicidal behavior. All of these factors play together. Hence, it may be difficult to isolate them. Researchers engage in research about adolescent suicide as a way of attempting to curb the menace. Further research will help to bring down the adolescent suicide statistics.
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