Paris Jackson and Teen Suicide

June 6, 2013  |  

Yesterday, Michael Jackson’s 15-year-old daughter Paris was rushed to a nearby hospital for attempted suicide. It was reported she cut herself with a kitchen knife and took about 20 Motrin to end her life. Elite Daily says an unknown person from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Paris just wanted attention. Another source reportedly said, “It makes no sense if you really want to die to call a hotline, where the person on the other end will get an ambulance over to your house. Who takes Motrin to kill themselves? She called the suicide hotline because she wanted the attention and wanted to make sure EMTs got there in time.”

That anonymous person’s attitude to suicide is dangerous, damaging and ultimately useless when it comes to getting people the help they need. Whether or not Paris wanted attention, the point is, she needs it. From doctors, from family and from friends. Her very public attempt reminds us suicide is a real problem. Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics say that in the United States, one person dies from suicide every 13.7 minutes. Younger people, yes (the suicide rate for teens is 10.5) but even adult friends; the highest suicide rate is among people ages 45 to 64 years old. And it doesn’t make sense, like Elite Daily’s source said; it’s terrifying and confusing for everyone involved–but it’s preventable.

It doesn’t make sense that someone who truly wanted to die would take an over-the-counter pain reliever and call someone to say she did. But here’s the thing that must be understood about depression and suicide—it’s not logical. It’s a disease, often chronic, that needs to same kind of attention any other disease does. The desire to end one’s life comes from something that’s much deeper and harder to explain, and it’s not about making other people notice you or hurting them. In fact, you want to help them. You feel, without a logical, apparent reason, that your death, or just nonexistence, will be a relief of your suffering but also a relief of the burden you place on others. It becomes very real that those people would be better off without you.

But even in the face of something that as a caregiver you really can’t understand, there are things you could do and things you should watch out for. First and foremost, don’t try to argue someone out of suicide or depression. That person needs compassion and acceptance rather than judgment, and a list of reasons why a person shouldn’t feel the way they do may just push him further away.

Rest assured that a single stressful life event for a teen, like a death in the family or even getting dumped or rejected from a first-choice college, is unlikely to precipitate a suicide attempt. Those who attempt suicide usually have an existing mental health issue like depression or bipolar disorder. Even if your child hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental disorder, be sure to check in with your teen should he or she seem especially withdrawn, angry sleepy, or disinterested in favorite activities. KidsHealth also lists the following warning signs:

  • talk about suicide or death in general
  • give hints that they might not be around anymore
  • talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
  • write songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss
  • start giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends
  • have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • experience changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • engage in risk-taking behaviors

 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention uses a great analogy to explain just who’s at risk for actual suicide attempt:

Thinking about heart disease helps to make [warning signs] clear. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol. Having these factors does not mean that someone is having a heart attack right now, but rather that there is an increased chance that they will have heart attack at some time. Warning signs of a heart attack are chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea. These signs mean that the person may be having a heart attack right now and needs immediate help.

A person who’s thinking about suicide might say it outright, making them the equivalent of someone who has chest pains in the heart disease metaphor. But if your child says something more vague like, “I can’t stand the pain anymore” you should still take that seriously because between 50 and 75 percent of people who attempt suicide tell someone first. If your child does admit to considering suicide, get help as soon as possible. Your primary care doctor can give you a referral for a psychologist. If your child is in crisis, go to your hospital’s emergency room.

With suicide ranking as the third causes of death in teens behind auto accidents and homicide, suicide and suicide ideation should be taken seriously. KidsHealth advises parents “not to minimize or discount what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.”  Give your child space to talk to you but understand he might not feel comfortable. Encourage him to speak to close family members, clergy members or other trusted adults. However, keep in mind this likely isn’t enough and your child should get help from a psychologist and possibly medication from a psychiatrist as well.

Thankfully, Paris Jackson didn’t join the more than 38,000 people that die from suicide each year. But she’s one of too many teens who need help, love and proper care.

If your child or someone you know is at risk for suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for assistance

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