In California, suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens. While the subject is hard to think about — let alone talk about — it is important to be informed and educated on the warning signs so you can help loved ones when they need it.
As parents, we naturally want to understand our teen’s life and help them handle any problems they might encounter. But that's easier said than done. It's important to understand the unique issues teens are facing today and what resources are available to teens and their friends and family.
This article will cover the steps to take to recognize and prevent suicide in teens.
Choosing to become informed can arm you with the knowledge to help prevent suicide. Many think that talking about the issue can cause suicidal thoughts or behavior. In reality, addressing the topic in a caring, empathetic and nonjudgmental way shows that you care about your child and what they may be going through.
With the recent death of a local Scotts Valley teen, this may be the right time to broach the subject with your teen.
RECOGNIZE THE WARNING SIGNS
While every teen is different, studies show that most teen suicide attempts are preceded by clear warning signs. That means it’s important to know the warning signs, pay attention to them, and take them seriously. Some warning signs to be aware of include:
- Personality changes: sadness, withdrawal, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, indecision
- Behavior changes: reduced involvement in activities, deterioration of social relationships
- Sleep issues: unable to sleep, sleeping too much, nightmares
- Loss of appetite, weight loss, or overeating
- Erratic behavior, harming self or others
When you address these warning signs, do so in a loving, caring, and nurturing way.
IS YOUR TEEN AT RISK?
Here is a list of suicide risk factors to be aware of:
- Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
- Alcohol and other substance abuse
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- History of trauma or abuse
- Previous suicide attempt
- Suicide death of family member or loved one
- Relationship or social loss
- Easy access to lethal means
- Academic or social failure in school
- Lack of social support, a sense of isolation
- Stigma associated with seeking help
- Barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Certain cultural and religious beliefs
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Know that you are not powerless. There are things you can do to guard your teen against the possibility of suicide.
First, take all threats, gestures and previous attempts seriously (make sure others do as well). It is important to express your concern and be a non-judgmental listener. Other preventative measures you can take include:
- Ask what’s wrong. Get the person in crisis to talk about the problem(s).
- Let them know you care and assure them they are not alone.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide directly or ask if they have a plan.
- Help them understand their problems are temporary and can be solved,
- Never agree to keep suicidal thoughts or plans a secret,
- If professional care is required, help them find it.
- If the crisis is acute, do not leave them alone until help is available. Remove firearms, knives, razors, medications and other potentially dangerous items from the area,
- After assistance is obtained, follow up with the person’s treatment and progress.
- Take an active role to ensure treatment compliance.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR TEEN ABOUT SUICIDE
Having a conversation with your teen about suicide can seem impossible, but it is so important. When addressing the topic talk in a calm, non-accusatory manner while expressing love and concern. Focus on your concern for your teen’s well-being and health. Make “I” statements to convey you understand the stressors he/she may be experiencing and reassure your teen that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
IF NECESSARY, SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Mental health professionals can be essential partners in teen suicide prevention. Therapy provides your teen the opportunity to express him or herself in a safe and confidential environment, but it can also help them make better sense of their current struggles.
TherapyWorks—we have therapists readily available Monday through Sunday with convenient morning, evenings and weekend availability. www.mytherapyworks.com
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741 Other information: Go to www.crisistextline.org
Maaliea Wilbur is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner & Executive Director of TherapyWorks. With expert training and over 10 years of experience, Maaliea’s clinical confidence and broad-level expertise allows her to successfully support kids, teens, adults, couples and families alike. As the Founder and Director of TherapyWorks, Maaliea has developed a strong relationship with local schools, organizations and businesses and enjoys giving back to the community through outreach and service.