Addressing Suicidal Thoughts and Actions in Youth

By Joannie DeBrito, Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT
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Focus on the Family has created Alive to Thrive to provide help and hope for parents and others who interact regularly with young people. This free resource provides practical suggestions for preventing and responding to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Suicide: A Troubling Trend

Sometimes God’s plans are not ours. I never imagined that my life would intersect with suicide in so many ways. Up until just over 20 years ago, my life had been pretty easy and predictable. I was grateful to have been spared the suffering that I saw in many of the clients I counseled. To my knowledge, nobody I knew had struggled with suicidal thoughts and actions, or lost a loved one to suicide. Then, in 1998, 13 teenagers took their lives in my community in one year. Later that year, suicide touched the family of my daughter’s best friend. Her father killed his wife and then killed himself. My daughter stood by her friend through the painful grieving process. 

Columbine and the Aftermath

The next year, the Columbine High School shooting happened. It was an event so tragic that the name of the school became synonymous with school shootings. After that, in response to the trauma associated with the Columbine tragedy, several more teens in the area died by suicide. This affected my family deeply as my kids were teenagers living near Columbine at the time. By the time they graduated from high school, my children had lost more peers to suicide and had attended over a dozen funerals. 

Increased Rates of Suicidal Thoughts and Actions

Two years later, I became the director of a college counseling center. For the first five years, I talked with about five students per year struggling with suicidal thoughts. However, as the years went on, the numbers steadily increased. By the time I left in 2017, my staff was talking with suicidal students nearly every day. This trend was not unique to our counseling center. On the contrary, it was reported by my colleagues at colleges all over the country. Indeed, recent research has shown an alarming rise in the number of young people reporting suicidal thoughts and actions. Suicide is now ranked as the second leading cause of death among 10-34 year olds.

Help Prevent Teen Suicide with our FREE Online Training

Alive to Thrive is designed to help parents and ministry leaders understand how suicide can be prevented. Through Alive to Thrive, you may become the lifeline that saves a young person’s life.

Focus on the Family Responds With Alive to Thrive

In response to this troubling trend, Focus on the Family created Alive to Thrive. This free online resource was put together for parents and others who regularly interact with youth. Written by a team of experienced, licensed counselors, Alive to Thrive offers strategies for preventing and responding to suicide. Compelling videos of those touched by suicide uncover the current causes and effects of youth suicide. Six learning modules provide adults with information needed in order to fully understand this problem and intervene effectively. 

Youth pastor and former American Idol finalist, Phil Stacey, talks with a survivor of several mental health crises. Trever Shirin discusses his experiences with self injury, drug use and a time he tried to kill himself. 

Having recovered from a period of self destructive behaviors, Trever now helps others struggling with suicidal thoughts and actions.

From Despair to Hope

Young people who struggle with suicidal thoughts and actions usually feel alone, depressed, and hopeless. Furthermore, exposure to the issues that bring them to consider suicide is difficult for the adults in their lives. Therefore, it is normal for those affected by suicide to feel a sense of despair. Alive to Thrive was created to provide them relief. This important resource encourages dependence on God and fellowship with other believers to find help and hope. Alive to Thrive offers practical tools so those impacted by suicide may experience renewal of the mind, body and spirit. And, it also supports the sanctity of all human life. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

During the COVID 19 outbreak, teens who are already struggling with depression and anxiety may be feeling especially hopeless. Share this message from Joel and Luke from For King and Country with teens who are grieving over the loss of special events and cancelled athletic seasons. 

New Content is Added Regularly

To keep adults current on the issues related to youth suicide, Alive to Thrive is updated often. New statistics and video content are added as they become available. The most recent addition is an ebook: Help: My Teen is Self-Injuring: A Crisis Manual for Parents. Dr. Mark Mayfield provides practical suggestions for parents who are trying to support youth struggling with self-harm issues.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 



Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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