How to Educate Yourself About Teen Suicide
Teens struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings need to be monitored closely. They may need the help of a healthcare professional specializing in this disorder.
Any talk of suicide should be taken seriously, even if it seems joking or attention-seeking. Removing weapons from the home and being vigilant about agitated behavior or words is best.
Learn the Signs
Teens with a history of mental illness are at higher risk for suicide. They may also be at risk if they have access to weapons or other lethal means, are experiencing a major loss, have family or relationship conflicts, are being bullied, or have tried to take their life before.
If your teen confides in you that they are thinking of taking their own life, listen to them with empathy. They are not being dramatic or overreacting and need to be heard. Signs to watch for include a preoccupation with death, significant changes in mood, sleep or eating patterns, withdrawal from friends and family, apathy in activities they used to enjoy, and isolation.
Other warning signs are pacing or being physically restless, giving away personal items for no apparent reason, and general agitation. In an emergency, call 911 or a crisis hotline for help. Then, if possible, talk to your child’s doctor and arrange for a mental health evaluation.
Know the Risk Factors
Parents need to understand the risk factors associated with teen suicide. This includes the things that make a young person more likely to engage in suicidal behaviors and the protective factors that can decrease a child’s risk for suicide.
Many of these risk factors are related to a teen’s underlying mental health issues and how they respond to stressors in their life. Depression, for example, is a significant factor in suicide. It’s not the same as feeling sad or down, and it can be a longer-lasting problem that’s harder to overcome than mood swings.
Other risk factors include bullying (whether the teen is the victim or the bully), lack of family support and relationships, substance abuse, and access to lethal items like pills and firearms. It’s also critical for adults to take any threat of suicide seriously and not trivialize it. This is especially true when a teen makes a specific plan or gestures toward suicide.
Know What to Do in an Emergency
Parents, teachers, and school staff need to learn about teen suicide. This can help them recognize the warning signs and take action to keep kids safe.
Often, teens who kill themselves give some warning to their loved ones ahead of time. The signs may include problems at school, trouble with a friend or romantic partner, an argument or family conflict, and the death of a loved one.
If you are concerned about your teen, seek help from some foundation like Brought To Reality and contact a mental health professional who treats children and teens. If the situation is urgent, take your teen to the local hospital’s emergency department. Removing access to lethal tools or substances is another way to protect your teen.
This includes guns (the most common method of suicide in youth) and other potentially deadly objects or medications, such as over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Also, it is a good idea to lock up knives and other items that can be used for self-harm.
Know Your Options
When it comes to suicide, there’s often a long path from having suicidal thoughts to taking one’s life. That means that if a teen has suicidal thoughts, they should be taken seriously, but they shouldn’t necessarily be treated as a suicide risk right away.
A teen might need to talk with a mental health professional or other caregiving adult. This might include a general medical practitioner, a psychologist, a therapist, or another health care provider who treats teens and adolescents.
Removing weapons from the home is essential if your teen has suicidal thoughts. Half of all suicide attempts in the US involve a firearm, and they’re almost always fatal. That’s why it’s often a good idea to turn any guns in the home over to relatives or friends so they won’t be easily accessible by a teen who is having suicidal thoughts. The same goes for other lethal objects or substances.