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Teen Suicide Prevention: Monitoring Our Teens

In this Family Circle report, learn how a family's love brought one teen back from brink, whether suicide is contagious, and how to recognize the symptoms. You can make a difference, starting today.
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Boy suicide

Adolescence is a tumultuous time—so many moods and emotions, so much Sturm und Drang. It's not unusual for teens to feel down, but prolonged depression is a serious problem that can't be ignored. About one in 10 adolescents suffer from the disorder by age 18, which can be so severe that they consider the unthinkable—ending their lives. Each year approximately 4,600 youths between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide, while about 157,000 more are treated in ERs for self-inflicted injuries. And a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that rates are on the rise. "This recent increase has many causes," says Ann Haas, Ph.D., senior director of education and prevention at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "At the root of most suicidal behavior among youth are unrecognized or untreated depression, anxiety, and alcohol or drug abuse. These problems may be triggered or exacerbated by pressure at home and at school to succeed, and by peer bullying. And parents often miss the signs." But the reassuring fact is, prevention also begins with parental knowledge and support.

Each year approximately 4,600 youths between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide, while about 157,000 more are treated in ERs for self-inflicted injuries. And a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that rates are on the rise. "This recent increase has many causes," says Ann Haas, Ph.D., senior director of education and prevention at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "At the root of most suicidal behavior among youth are unrecognized or untreated depression , anxiety, and alcohol or drug abuse. These problems may be triggered or exacerbated by pressure at home and at school to succeed, and by peer bullying. And parents often miss the signs."

But the reassuring fact is, prevention also begins with parental knowledge and support.

A Second Chance at Life

The barrel of the shotgun tasted terrible. But that didn't stop Luke Beischel from putting it in his mouth. A few days earlier the troubled 15-year-old from a Cincinnati suburb had decided to end his life. As planned, he had gone to school and rowing practice. Once back home he cleaned his room, wrote a brief suicide note and went online to look up brain anatomy—so he'd get the angle of the gun right. By then his parents and older sister had left the house to cheer on his younger brother at a soccer game. On a balmy September evening he sat alone in the backyard and tried to force himself to pull the trigger.

What had brought Luke to this heartbreaking moment? It was simply a bad grade. A happy, fun-loving kid, he was also a perfectionist and relentlessly self-critical. He'd always been a top student, but "once I started to do poorly in Latin, it made me feel hopeless, like a total failure," says Luke, now 23. "Killing myself seemed the best solution."

For Luke, the first indications of trouble appeared in eighth grade, when he applied to an academically rigorous high school. "None of my friends were doing that, so they started taunting me, saying, 'You think you're too good for us,'" Luke recalls. Shunned by the group, he became deeply depressed. Luke agreed to see a school counselor after admitting to his mom, Kelly, that he was having dark thoughts. When the other kids found out he was seeing a therapist, however, he quit after one session, assuring his mom he was fine. His mood improved after enrolling at the new school, where he joined the cross-country and rowing teams and quickly made friends.

Then came a pop quiz in Latin at the start of his sophomore year in late August. Even though Luke didn't think he had to study over the summer, he was stunned when he failed. A couple of weeks later, he was already flunking the course. "The teacher told me he was willing to help, but I couldn't reach out because that would be perceived as being weak," says Luke. "The expectations at this place were to excel." He told absolutely no one how he despondent he felt.

With bad grades piling up, Luke slipped further into panic and depression. It didn't help that his sister Beth, then 18, and his brother Will, then 13, both seemed to thrive at school without even trying. Adding to Luke's pain was the fact that he was secretly struggling with his sexuality, wondering if he might be gay and what that would mean to his family, all devout Catholics. "I felt like an outcast and a pretender, like I didn't belong anywhere," he says. Luke began actively contemplating killing himself but continued to behave as if nothing was wrong. "Looking back, it was never obvious he was sad or depressed," says Beth. Even Kelsey Cornish, Luke's girlfriend at the time, had no idea. "He was the same, very happy-go-lucky guy," she says. "He was stressed about high school, but so was everyone else."