Welcome to LoudounTimes.com
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Understanding teen suicide

Northern Virginia has recently experienced several teen suicides. Last month, two Langley High School students took their own lives just a day apart from one another, and this month it appears two students at Woodson High School also committed suicide. Fairfax County alone has had 15 suicides over the past three years, and the surrounding counties, including Loudoun County, have also had a number of teen suicides in recent years.

Suicide is tragic, and it seems to be even more so when it involves our young. As the director of a private mental health practice, I can report first hand that the recent suicides have had a profound impact on parents across Northern Virginia. Over the past month, I have received a number of calls from upset and worried parents, with the majority of them asking the same question, “How do I know if my teen is suicidal?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among young adults and adolescents 10 to 24 years of age, following unintentional injuries and homicide. And, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, scientific evidence has shown that almost all people who take their own lives have a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder. This makes sense if you consider that those who suffer from depression and/or other mental health disorders would be less capable of coping with difficult situations or strong, negative feelings than those who are free of such problems.

But not all suicidal teens are depressed. Teens in crisis, for instance, may impulsively act-out and some might even go to the extreme of suicide with several factors contributing to that final decision – personality style, identity struggles, access to external resources and relationships (perceived or real) and developmental immaturity to name a few of the important ones. Research on the teen brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, in recent years has led to some interesting findings on teen risk taking and impulsiveness. The general conclusion being that teens do not possess the cognitive maturity of adults and thus are vulnerable to exercising extremely poor judgment and poor impulse control at times and especially when emotions are strong.

Recent research on the topic of teen suicide has also found that teens that are exposed to a peer who has committed suicide are significantly more likely to think about or attempt suicide. “Suicide contagion” is the term for this phenomenon. Suicides can also then occur and spread (e.g., throughout a school system), and this is termed, “suicide cluster.” Interestingly, this latter phenomenon is known to occur in response to celebrity suicides. For example, the number of suicides reportedly skyrocketed nationally in the month of August following the suicide of Marilyn Monroe in 1962.

Researchers have estimated that there are between eight and 25 attempted suicides for each teen suicide death and that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings. While knowing if a teen is truly suicidal is not always simple to determine, there are many factors and behavioral indicators that can help parents or friends recognize the threat of suicide in a loved one. Since mental and substance-related disorders so frequently accompany suicidal behavior, many of the cues to look for are the actual symptoms associated with such disorders as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, alcohol and/or drug use, disruptive behavior disorders, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia.

Some common signs or symptoms of these disorders include:
Extreme personality changes
Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
Significant loss or gain in appetite
Difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Withdrawal from family and friends
Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
Sadness, irritability, or indifference
Extreme anxiety or panic
Poor school performance
Difficulty paying attention and concentrating

Other factors to consider include:
Having a history of abuse
Having a close family member who has tried or committed suicide
Having access to guns
Having significant relationship or social problems

Tragically, many of these signs and/or factors can go unrecognized, and while suffering from one of these symptoms certainly does not necessarily mean that one is suicidal, it's always best to communicate openly with a loved one who has one or more of these problems, especially if the problems are unusual for that person.

There are also more obvious signs indicating a higher potential for committing suicide. Putting one’s affairs in order, such as giving or throwing away favorite belongings, is a strong clue. And it cannot be stressed more strongly that any talk of death or suicide should be taken seriously and paid close attention to. It is a sad fact that while many of those who commit suicide talked about it beforehand, only 33 percent to 50 percent were identified by their doctors as having a mental illness at the time of their death, and only 15 percent of suicide victims were in treatment at the time of their death, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. Moreover, approximately one-third of teens who die by suicide have made a previous suicide attempt, so a history of suicide attempts is a cause for careful monitoring of behavior.

While these most recent teen suicides are tragedies in our community, it is important to keep things in perspective. Yes, suicide rates have increased in Virginia in recent years, however, statistics show that Virginia’s suicide rate is only slightly above the national average, and Northern Virginia reportedly has the lowest suicide rate in the state.

If you, or is someone you know, exhibits any of the warning signs listed above, please get help right away. Talk to someone you trust as soon as you can, such as a parent, teacher or school counselor. If you are uncomfortable talking about your feelings with someone you know, call a suicide crisis line (such as: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 911. Most toll-free lines are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by trained professionals who offer confidential support to help you work through tough situations. Lastly, Northern Virginia has many well-trained mental health professionals for your teen to meet with privately should you have concerns regarding your teen’s safety and well-being.

Dr. Michael Oberschneider is a highly accredited clinical psychologist and the founder of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Dr. Oberschneider is also a nationally certified custody evaluator and a nationally certified parenting coordinator and a large portion of his practice is devoted to helping families who are going through divorce.


Then gentry, how do you explain a duplicate post from lucasabaal?

Glen Baylexx, there is no agenda on my part other than wanting to inform others. Parents and others need to be made aware of the realities of the mental health profession and its shortcomings.
The below links describes a very disturbing conflict of interest pertaining to diagnosing children with bipolar disorder.

  Parents should do their own research before accepting a diagnosis for children.

Same person posting twice or cut and paste from site with an agenda?

With all due respect to the author, Dr. Oberschneider, the mental health industry or business is a very large part of the problem.
The prescription of psychotropic drugs is a very large part of the problem.
Terms such as mental illness are used to often despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence of any DSM diagnosis.

I sympathize with the families, that it is why it is important for Dr. Oberschneider to elaborate on the connection between psychotropic drugs and suicide. As one who has sat and talked to various psychologists during a custody case, I was appalled who subjective the field of psychology/psychiatry really is. Parents and the general public should be educated about the dangers of the mental health profession. It is of the up most importance not to accept a diagnosis without evidence for the diagnosis. In a recent book by Dr. Gary Greenberg, the Book of Woe, he mentions how diagnoses are crafted to ensure that the insurance company pays the provider. The book also details the problems with the DSM-V, which has attracted much criticism.

In my experience, I would struggle to accept any diagnosis as valid. In my case, Sandra Glenna of the County Attorney’s office, recommended someone who was mentioned in article “When therapists are lunatics”.  Dr. Silberg evidently subscribed to the now debunked diagnosis of MPD and hypnotic therapy. Debbie Nathan, in Sybil Exposed, debunked MPD very convincingly.

I would advise families to view the mental health professionals with a critical lens and scrutinize any diagnosis that the professional cannot provide any evidence for. Above all be wary of any professional who prescribes medication after a few visits.

Unfortunately, psychology and psychiatry fails to clear the standards of evidence that other medical fields have cleared decades ago. The mental health industry has been at the forefront of many tragedies such as the Satanic Panic in the 80’s, homosexuality being described as a mental disorder in DSM-3 and multiple personality disorder. The industry has an abysmal track record.

I wish all the money spent on security for schools to prevent the yearly mass shooting would be redirected to suicide prevention and mental health. We’d overall have fewer child deaths since mass shootings are typically a showy way to commit suicide.

Post a comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments express only the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website or any associated person or entity. Any user who believes a message is objectionable can contact us at ltmeditor@loudountimes.com.

More News

The Loudoun Times-Mirror

is an interactive, digital replica
of the printed newspaper.
Click here for all e-editions.