12 Teenagers Tell Us Straight Up What We Need to Do to Prevent Teen Suicide

12 Teenagers Tell Us Straight Up What We Need to Do to Prevent Teen Suicide

mother and daughter
Of all my memories of high school, I suspect that the one day I'll never forget is the day I learned that Derek had died. Derek was our homecoming king and a senior with a football scholarship lined up for college next year. He was gorgeous, popular, and academically successful. His little sister found him hanging from a belt in his bedroom. 

Derek's death shocked my high school self to the core. The fact that he killed himself seemed so incomprehensible. At the time, I didn't realize that suicide is actually one of the leading causes of death for teenagers, especially boys.

As a parent of future teenagers and someone who works with college-age students in my work life, I'm deeply concerned about the risks of teen suicide. In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, and in memory of Derek, I decided to ask some teens about their thoughts on what teenagers need in order to reduce the rates of attempted or completed suicides.

Read on for their candid, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking responses about what parents, schools, and friends can do to make sure all our teens have hope. 

If you or someone you know has expressed suicidal thoughts, please let them know they are not alone. Text START to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at www.sprc.org

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  • Talk About It

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    "In 8th grade, I felt really hopeless. I also felt like I was the only one who ever felt like that. Everyone else seemed like everything was easy for them. Hearing people talk more openly about the fact that feeling lonely and like you don't know what you are doing would help, I think." -- Margo, 15, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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  • Make School a Place Where We Feel Safe

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    "No matter what people say, and how confident they try to make teenagers feel, there are these constant reminders and people that tell teens they will never be pretty enough, and handsome enough, or fit enough. For example, if a teenager goes on TV or YouTube, there is no doubt about it that there will be a beauty ad or commercial that will make a teen feel bad in comparison.

    "One thing that stands in the way of teens getting the help they need is thinking no one is there for them, or like them. There should be clubs or groups at school where kids can discuss this, only if they feel comfortable. Something else in the way of getting help is being afraid that something, like bullies, will get worse if they get help. Teens need to know they are in a safe environment for suicides to decrease -- and schools should be one of the safest environments one can be in." -- Anna, 13, Montclair, New Jersey

  • Change the Messages

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    "I attempted suicide when I was a freshman in high school. There were a lot of reasons behind it and I am on antidepression meds now and am doing okay.

    "Part of my low-self esteem came from feeling like I was ugly. Everything is so fake now. Photoshop. The Kardashians and the whole contouring thing. Looking like a regular person makes you feel ugly when you look at the celebrities and stuff. I wish there were more normal-looking people in the media so there wasn't all this pressure to look fake and beautiful." -- Camilla, 17, San Diego, California

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  • Help Us Navigate Social Media

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    "People just need to stop being so brutal to each other! If you are a girl on Instagram or Snap or whatever, you get so many mean messages. You are also never popular enough. You can never get enough likes. I think we'd be better off if we all were on our phones less. I'm not supposed to think that as a teenager, but I do." -- Ali, 16, Tucson, Arizona

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  • Teach Us to Cope

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    "You know what is weird? I've learned more in school about how to drive than I have about how to deal with my emotions or about mental health stuff. Shouldn't schools teach about that too?" -- Carsyn, 16, Maplewood, Minnesota 

  • It Should Be Easier to Get Help

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    "I believe that society needs to be kinder. There can be all this 'you have to be skinny to be pretty.' As a girl who deals with suicidal thoughts and depression, I can identify with feeling like society puts so much pressure on people to be beautiful and skinny and 'normal.' But honestly, normal is boring. You have to be yourself. People need to be kinder towards one another and not push people down so much. I wish that people could just be kinder to each other. Not even just kids or teens, but adults as well. I also wish that the media would stop having models that are anorexic-ly skinny.

    "Teens can't always get help because of the cost of therapy and insurance. Also sometimes people don't realize that suicide, depression, anxiety, and all other mental disorders are just as bad as physical ones. For example, if a child had the flu you would take them to the doctors, but, with some people, if their child has depression and suicidal thoughts they might not take it as seriously. I have witnessed that firsthand. I was lucky enough where my parents found out and took me to the doctors. Other kids, not so much.

    "All in all, if you have suicidal thoughts or things like that, you need to get help immediately. Don't hurt yourself because you're damaging the single most important thing, yourself." -- Jordan, 13 (town withheld)

  • Help Us See That It Gets Better

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    "I just started college this fall and it is amazing how much better life is. I think if there was a way to help people in middle school and high school know that they just have to hang on until college, that would help.

    "High school feels like it last forever when you are depressed. But it really is short." -- Jalen, 18, Saint Paul, Minneosta

  • Help Us Deal With the Pressure

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    "I wish that teens would realize how much what they say and do affects the way others feel about themselves.

    "Also, we need to change the amount of pressure that is forced on teens. Pressure comes from school and from the high expectations of our peers and teachers and society. School, homework, responsibilities ... Parents can help by helping us organize our priorities. Asking us how we want to spend our after-school time, for example. Parents should ask us a lot of questions about our experiences, because it feels like you are important or special if parents, teachers, and friends pay attention to you." -- Isabella, 13, Verona, New Jersey 

  • Know That Love Is Love

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    "I've heard that suicide rates are higher for gay kids. I think that will get better as society changes and we all realize that being gay or bi or trans or whatever isn't a big deal. The more acceptance we have, the better it will be." -- Dahlia, 15, Flagstaff, Arizona

  • Be There

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    "I had a really hard year last year. I got ditched by my friends and was basically a social outcast. I think I might have felt like suicidal or whatever if I hadn't had my mom. She tells me every day she loves me and she doesn't make me pretend things are good when they aren't. She is a safe place. Everyone should have my mom, basically." -- Jules, 14, Oakdale, Minnesota 

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  • Help Us Find Our Tribe

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    "My mom always says you have to find your tribe. The idea is that everyone has a tribe of people they fit with. Nobody has to be lonely but sometimes your tribe is harder to find. 

    "I'm super into cosplay, for example, and nobody at my school really gets that, so I used the Internet to find people who are also into it. I feel better about myself hanging out with people who get me." -- Josie, 17, Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Remind Us There Is a World Outside of School

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    "I think people just need to feel like who they are is okay. Like you don't have to be blond and perfect. You don't have to be Taylor Swift. I think it has helped me realize that the world is a lot bigger than my school and that just because people at my school only like one type of person, it doesn't mean that the other types of people aren't cool too. Teens need to get helped get out of their bubble. See more of the world." -- Meeka, 18, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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