A group of colleagues in a conference

Social workers can play a key role in teen suicide prevention

As anyone working in the field of mental health knows, suicide is a bleak reality. Almost 43,000 people committed suicide in the U.S. in 2014, and the figure now surpasses the number of people who die from homicides each year.1

In teens, it takes a staggering toll, ranking as the second-leading cause of death in the 15- to 24-year-old age group.2 By earning a master of social work degree at Our Lady of the Lake University, you can help play a major role in changing that statistic.

As a social worker, you will encounter clients who are at risk of suicide. Statistically, males are four times more likely to commit suicide than females, although women are more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, you can play a key role in preventing suicides. To do that, you should know what to look for, how to assess your patient’s condition and how to take action when dealing with a suicidal teen.

Many social workers in the U.S. are creating awareness and understanding of suicide in their communities, with the first step being encouraging people to talk about it. Additionally, many social workers in federal agencies are collaborating on initiatives to help reduce suicide in the U.S. In fact, suicide has become such a concern for policy makers that the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention has created a new approach to generate greater awareness.3

As part of the new approach, the organization has created guidelines4 for training social workers and other clinicians, including nurses and mental health professionals, as studies showed most didn’t feel comfortable with the amount of training they were receiving in the area of suicide.

Knowing the signs

Perhaps the most important thing a social worker can do to help prevent suicide among teens is to know the warning signs. These can include the following:

  • Talking about suicide or death
  • Making statements about wishing they were dead
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family
  • Giving away possessions
  • Showing a sudden improvement in mood after being depressed for a period of time.5

By knowing the signs, you increase your ability to open a dialogue that can prevent the teen from acting on his or her thoughts. The most common way to do that is to begin by asking the teenager if he or she has been thinking of suicide and, if the answer is yes, finding out if the teen has created a plan for carrying it out. It’s also important to find out if he or she has access to lethal means to carry out a plan, such as guns or pills.

In addition, you will want to take into consideration such things as the level of hopelessness and psychological pain and his or her history of self-destructive behavior.

If you determine the person is not in immediate danger, you should create a plan of action that will include maintaining frequent contact, either by phone or in person, and working with the teen’s family to create a support network that can monitor suicidal behavior.

In some cases, your assessment might indicate the teen needs further help, such as hospitalization. If you are dealing with a minor, this is something that will likely need to be done with his or her parent's consent. So you will be working closely with the family and will also want to provide them with more knowledge about suicide and how to prevent it.

Enrolling in a program such as the master’s in social work at Our Lady of the Lake University can provide you with the tools to make this important change in the lives of teens.

1http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705D5DF4-055B-F1EC-3F66462866FCB4E6

2http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705D5DF4-055B-F1EC-3F66462866FCB4E6

3http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org

4http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/resources/suicide-prevention-and-clinical-workforce-guidelines-training

5http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewpage&page_id=705f4071-99a7-f3f5-e2a64a5a8beaadd8

6http://ok.gov/odmhsas/documents/Social_Workers-Counselors.pdf