Last year may have been only the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg of suicidal ideation among Tempe, West Chandler and other Valley teenagers: More than 23,000 calls and nearly 1,400 texts flooded the phones of prevention specialists, who note that this year’s spring season is again predicted to see an increase in desperate calls from adolescents ages 10 to 19.
That’s why Phoenix-based Teen Lifeline is alerting those who come in contact with teenagers that it is a stressful time of year, typically resulting in an average 10 percent increase in calls that are answered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year following spring break.
It’s also behind the organization’s reminder of a sweeping initiative that’s underway to show Teen Lifeline contact information on the back of student ID cards, which already has taken place at Corona del Sol, Marcos de Niza and McClintock high schools, as well as Compadre Academy and New School for the Arts.
Teen Lifeline says the move is part of its SAFE program, which spells out an easily recallable checklist in case friends or family feel a teen may be in danger:
S—Search the back of your teen’s school ID. If you have a child in middle school or high school, check the back of your student’s school ID to make sure it has the Teen Lifeline phone number. If you don’t see the hotline number listed, contact administrators at your child’s school now and ask to have it added. Encourage administrators to call Teen Lifeline to implement the program.
A—Ask about thoughts of suicide. If you are concerned about your child, it is important to ask them about thoughts of suicide. It is a common misconception that you can give someone the idea of suicide, if you ask about it. Openly asking the question gives your teen permission to talk about their feelings, including the emotions, frustrations or challenges they are going through.
F—Form connections. Strong connections to family, friends and community support are a protective factor for teens. To help prevent teen suicide, form a stronger connection with a teen in your life today. For example, send a text to ask how their day is going, plan something fun to do together, eat dinner together or ask about how things are going in their life.
E—Encourage positive relationships. Many times, a teen’s friends help them feel supported and cared for. These friendships can come through school, sports teams, clubs, church groups and even social media. Encourage connections with peers and adults who are a positive influence in a teen’s life. Think twice before cutting off all contact with friends or social media, which can actually increase risk. Instead opt for allowing some connection to continue but limit the time or duration.
“We know the time leading up to and after spring break can be especially stressful for teens,” says Michelle Moorhead, Teen Lifeline executive director.
“Stressors can be anything from midterm exams to a break from friends which can leave teens feeling overwhelmed and alone.
“Connection to others, hope for the future, access to services and basic coping and life skills all help reduce risk and ultimately prevent teen suicide,” she adds.
“But it takes the entire community to help our most vulnerable teens. It is important to know the things that put your teen at risk as well as the things that will protect them from the risk of suicide.”
An average of one out of every three calls to the service is from a teen considering suicide. The vast majority of those calls were resolved with a plan for getting a caring adult involved. Most callers hung up feeling as though their problem was more manageable, increasing their hope for the future, according to Moorhead.
If you know a teenager who is struggling, suggest they reach out to the Teen Lifeline hotline at 602-248-TEEN (8336) or 800-248-TEEN. The service is staffed by teen peer counselors from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. every day of the year.
Trained suicide prevention counselors staff the phones at all other hours.
Teens can also text with peer counselors at 602-248-8336 between 3 and 9 p.m. daily.
Concerned parents are encouraged to contact Teen Lifeline with questions related to their teen’s behavior, to discuss how to help their child or to find community resources for additional intervention.