Suicide is a leading cause of death for children and young people in the U.S. Director of Child and Family Services, Shameka Thomas-Habersham shares her perspective on the importance of knowing the warning signs and risk factors for youth, especially in Baltimore City.
Why is Suicide Prevention Month and awareness about suicide important, particularly for youth?
SH: Being a teen is stressful. Many adults don’t recognize or acknowledge that teens are managing a multitude of challenges at any given time. The overall developmental and teenage experiences combined with stressful life events can contribute to thoughts about suicide. The risk for suicide varies with age, gender, and cultural influences. So many traumatic events impact Baltimore City youth. They consistently report fear of violence, injury, and even death. Increasing awareness of what youth go through and how that can impact their mental health can decrease attempts of suicide and save lives.
In addition to raising awareness, why is it essential to break down the stigma around suicide?
SH: It is a heavy topic, but we cannot be afraid to talk about suicide or seek treatment for youth in need. Education and understanding of suicide are a significant component of decreasing the stigma. This will foster better-informed communities, relationships with open communication and environments for teens and their peers to feel safe seeking help.
At a systems level, what is needed to help address suicide in Baltimore City?
SH: Education, education and more education! The more people know, the better informed they are to feel safe and have their needs adequately addressed. Baltimore City youth deal with many traumatic events, so we also need to be trauma-informed and equipped with culturally relevant resources when providing that education. This starts by inviting the youth into the conversation and acknowledging them as experts on their needs and their experiences. As a system, we must identify and decrease barriers based on a shared vision with the community.
How can caregivers support youth who might be dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts?
SH: Learning the warning signs can prevent a tragic loss. Commonly noted signs are:
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Isolation and withdrawal from friends and family members
- Verbal hints, such as “I won’t be a problem much longer”
In addition to knowing the signs, it is crucial that we listen. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing that any threats of suicide are a cry for help. EVERY threat, thought, behavior, or plan should be taken seriously. Help in these cases should be sought immediately
Here are resources that break down stigma, inform people about the warning signs and risks and offer support to those impacted by suicide.
If you or young person you know is in need of immediate, emotional support call, text or chat the CALL 988 helpline to talk with a counselor. For more information, visit 988helpline.org