The adolescent years can be some of the most difficult in a person’s life. This stage of growth and development marks rapid changes both mentally and physically. Teenagers today are dealing and coping with far more mature issues than we ever did 20-30 years ago.
Unfortunately, suicide has become the third leading cause of death in persons 15-24 years old, and studies suggest that between 12-25% of children and adolescents have thoughts of suicide at some point. This note will help to shed some light on risk factors for suicide, and where to find help if your teen or someone you know is struggling with a serious issue or life in general.
- Sudden changes in appearance/mood
- Giving away personal/prized possessions
- Disturbing posts or mentioning contemplation of suicide on social media sites
- Disturbing songs/poetry about committing suicide
- Isolation/withdrawing from family and friends
- Stressful event (teen pregnancy, relationship break-up, etc.)
RISK FACTORS FOR ADOLESCENT SUICIDE
- Previous history of suicide attempt
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Availability of firearms and/or pills in the home
- Gay or bisexual orientation
- Self-harming behavior
- Behavioral problems
- Impaired parent/child relationship
- Legal or disciplinary crisis
- Engaging in bullying behavior — either as the target or the bully
PROTECTIVE FACTORS AGAINST SUICIDE IN ADOLESCENTS
- Family unity
- Religious beliefs
- Cherished animal/pet
- Compelling interest/hobby
- Supportive school environment/caring teachers
- Strong core value and beliefs
- Will to live
Keeping (or at least attempting to keep) the line of communication open with your teenager(s) is imperative in preventing suicide. Teens usually give warning signs that they may be contemplating suicide. Keep a close watch on your teen if she acts depressed or withdrawn. Depression in teenagers may take on different forms (i.e. falling grades, sleep disturbances, problems with friends, etc.) than just typical signs of chronic sadness and crying.
If your teenager starts saying things like “I’d be better off dead” or “Things would be so much better here without me,” don’t take it lightly or assume he is just trying to get attention. Ask your teen why he is making those statements. Depending on the answer, ask flat out if he has ever thought about hurting himself, and if so, does he have a plan? Some parents may be reluctant to ask for fear of planting ideas about suicide in their teen’s mind, but research has shown that it’s always better to ask, even though it may be difficult. Explain to your teen why you’re asking these questions, and let him know that you truly care about his safety and well-being.
If your teenager does confide in you that she has been thinking about hurting herself or contemplating suicide, take it seriously and show concern. Try not to minimize what your teenager is going through. Yes, a break-up with a significant other may have you jumping for joy, but to your teen, it may feel like the end of the world. Be cognizant of your feelings and try to empathize with how your teen is feeling. The reward will be that she continues confiding in you about her thoughts, feelings, and personal matters.
Losing a child to suicide is every parent’s worst nightmare. If your child or someone you love is displaying any of the above mentioned red flags, urge them to seek help right away. As always, the providers and staff at Kids Plus are eager to help. We can provide resources and support, and help you get in touch with a mental health professional. If your teen attempts suicide or is in crisis, call 911 or seek help immediately at your local emergency room. (Other helpful resources are listed below.)
Threats of suicide and depression in teenagers should not be taken lightly. Staying involved in your teens life and asking the right questions, may just one day save their life.
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES
Resolve Crisis Prevention Network – Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
24/7 Crisis Hotline
Katie LaMendola, a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner, co-teaches our Puberty. Seriously? class.