What Clubs Can Do to Prevent Youth Suicide

This week the ClubX Blog and the Youth Trends team are marking National Suicide Prevention Week. Be sure to check out the accompanying Club Story for more guidance.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, seek help immediately. You can call the free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time.

September 9-15th is National Suicide Prevention Week. In honor of this week, BGCA has released a new Suicide Prevention & Awareness Guide full of helpful tips, information and resources for Clubs that is available for download on BGCA.net.

Suicide is a major health concern in the United States that impacts thousands of young people, their families, and communities each year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and rates of death due to suicide among youth have more than doubled in the past 10 years.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 17.2% of high school students reported seriously considering suicide, 13.6% reported created a plan, and 7.4% reported trying to take their own life in the past 12 months.

Learn the Warning Signs

Childhood, especially the teen years, are a stressful time. They are filled with many changes including body changes, changes in thoughts, and changes in feelings. Strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear, doubt, and pressure to succeed may influence youth’s problem-solving and decision-making abilities. For some youth, these changes can be very unsettling when combined with other events such as changes in their family, changes in friendships, or difficulties in school. These problems may seem too hard or embarrassing to overcome, and for some, suicide may seem like a solution.

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Suicidal behavior is complex because there is no single cause. More than half of the youth who died by suicide in the past year did not have a known mental health condition. However, approximately 70% of people tell someone or give warning signs before taking their own life. Club staff and peers may be in the best position to recognize when a young person might need help. You may see the following warning signs in person, hear about them secondhand, or see them online in social media.

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Suicide notes or threats
  • Making final arrangements, such as saying goodbye to friends, giving away prized possessions, or deleting online profiles
  • Isolation, lonelieness, withdrawing from friends
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, being a burden to others, or having no reason to live
  • Obsession with death or dying
  • Self-injury (e.g. cutting)
  • Mental illness (e.g. depression)
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Family stress or dysfunction (e.g. divorce)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Environmental risks, such as presence of a firearm in the home
  • Acting up in class or at the Club and behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Displaying extreme mood swings and acting anxious
  • Situational crises, such as bullying, failing in school, breakup of a relationship/friendship, death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, family violence, suicide of a peer or celebrity, etc.

If you or someone you know exhibits any of these warning signs, seek help immediately.

Preventing Youth Suicide

Suicide is preventable. By recognizing the warning signs, listening, talking, and taking action you could save a life. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has five evidence-informed action steps for communicating with someone who may be suicidal:

1. ASK

Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you are open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental, supportive way. Asking in this direct manner can open the door for effective dialogue and allow everyone to see what steps need to be taken.

Another piece of the “Ask” step is to listen. Listening to their reasons for being in pain, as well as reasons they want to stay alive, are both incredibly important. Help them focus on their reasons for living and avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.

2. KEEP THEM SAFE

It is important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking to you? Do they have a detailed plan for how they would kill themselves? What sort of access do they have to their planned method? Knowing the answers to these questions can tell you a lot about the severity of danger this person is in. For example, if they have immediate access to a firearm or medications, they may be at higher risk for enacting their plan and emergency steps might be necessary (calling 911 or taking them to the emergency department).

3. BE THERE

Being there for someone with thoughts of suicide is lifesaving. Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation is shown to be a protective factor against suicide. This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone, finding others who can help, or any other way that shows support.

4. HELP THEM CONNECT

Helping someone with suicidal thoughts connect with ongoing treatment, supports, and resources can help them establish a safety net for those moments when they are in a crisis. One way to help them connect is to develop a safety plan. This can include ways for them to identify if they start to experience thoughts of suicide, and what to do in those crisis moments. This plan can also include a list of individuals to contact when a crisis occurs, contact for a mental health professional, and resources in the community.

5. FOLLOW UP

After you have connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow up with them to see how they are doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call to check in. This type of contact and support can increase their feelings of connectedness and reduce their risk for suicide.

What can Clubs do?

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Clubs, schools, communities, families, and friends can all work together to build protective factors in and around youth that may decrease their risk of suicide. These factors include:

  • Family and Peer SupportThis includes the establishment of caring, supportive adult-youth and youth-youth relationships, and emphasizing family involvement at the Club.
  • Club and Community ConnectednessClubs should have caring, trained professionals who can conduct risk assessments, warn/inform families, provide recommendations and referrals to community services, provide follow-up counseling and support, and establish effective partnerships with mental health agencies.
  • Protective EnvironmentsEstablishing a protective environment can take many forms, from working with families to reduce access to firearms and medications in the home, to establishing a positive, inclusive climate within the Club. For more information on creating a positive Club environment visit BGCA.net for resources on Club Climate, serving LGBTQ youth, and Inclusion.
  • Adaptive coping and problem-solving skillsIt is important to help youth learn positive coping methods such as self-care and finding support groups rather than turning to substance use or other negative coping behaviors. The development of resilience factors such as conflict resolution and effective problem-solving skills are also essential. Staff can model these positive behaviors for youth.
  • General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, and sense of purposeStaff can help youth follow their passions and increase overall happiness by encouraging youth to join groups focused on a favorite hobby, take a class to learn something new, volunteer for things they care about, and meet new people. Staff can also model healthy behaviors, share good habits, and promote mindfulness and stress reduction techniques.
  • Easy access to effective medical and mental health resourcesClubs can establish partnerships with local mental health agencies, and work with schools and community partners to provide youth and families with referrals to counselors and mental health providers.

Remember, signs of suicidal thoughts or actions should never be ignored or taken lightly. If you or someone you know is in need of support, seek help immediately. You can call the free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you would like more information on guiding youth through this or other difficult topics, download the full Suicide Prevention & Awareness Guide or you can email ClubXBlog@bgca.org to get connected to the right content team at BGCA.

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