It’s difficult for any parent to think about their child considering suicide. As children grow into teenagers, it can become more challenging for parents to know what they are thinking, and if it’s more than the normal ups and downs of adolescence.
Here are some ways that parents can help prevent suicide, and some things to watch out for. The more you know, the better you’ll be prepared for understanding what can put your child at risk.
Don’t let your teenager’s depression or anxiety go un-noticed
Everyone has bad days, but if it’s been going on for a couple of weeks, it may indicate a problem. Teens may be embarrassed to share their unhappiness with parents or other people, and boys in particular may try to hide their emotions to avoid appearing “weak.” Try speaking with your teen and encourage them to share with you. Knock on the door, park yourself on the bed, and say, “You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it? Maybe I can help.”
Even when they are not speaking, listen
Most kids who are thinking about committing suicide show troubling behaviors and actions that can tip you off to their troubled state. Usually, there are three or more factors or issues going on in a child’s life when they are thinking about taking their own life. These include but are not limited to:
– Substance use
– Peer pressure
– Access to weapons
– Severe, chronic pain or chronic medical conditions
– Impulsiveness or aggressiveness
– Public humiliation
– A major loss such as a death or breakup
If your instinct tells you that a teenager might be a danger to themselves, listen to your gut and don’t allow them to be left alone.
Don’t assume that threats of suicide are part of ‘typical teen melodrama’
Any statement (written or otherwise) of “I want to die” or “I don’t care anymore” should be taken seriously. Most research supports that people who openly threaten suicide don’t really intend to take their own lives, but the threat is a desperate plea for help. However, not taking them seriously is not worth the risk of being wrong.Any of these other red flags warrant your immediate attention and action by seeking professional help right away:
– “Nothing matters.”
– “I wonder how many people would come to my funeral?”
– “Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”
– “Everyone would be better off without me.”
– “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”Try not to react with shock if you hear these comments or actual statements of feeling suicidal. Don’t tell them “You don’t mean that”, or scorn them with saying they are being ridiculous. Be willing to listen in a non-judgmental way to what they are really saying, which is that they need your love, attention, and help. The immediate focus needs to be on consoling your child. You might say something like “You must really, really be hurting” in a calm voice.
Remove any and all firearms, alcohol, and medications until the crisis has passed
If you keep guns at home, store them safely or move all firearms elsewhere until the crisis has passed.
Seek professional help right away
If you are concerned by your teen’s behavior, don’t wait to contact your pediatrician or a local mental health provider who works with children. If you think your child is actively suicidal and in danger of self-harm, call your local mental health crisis support team or go to the nearest emergency room.There are suicide prevention hotlines that may be of assistance as well:
The Teen Line 800-852-8336 (800-TLC-TEEN)
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255
Physical activity can help mild to moderate depression. Experts recommend 30-40 minutes a day, two to five times a week. Any form of exercise will do – what matters the most is that the activity is enjoyed and happens on a regular basis. Why does this help? Physical activity causes a gland in the brain to release endorphins, which is believed to improve mood and ease pain. Endorphins also lower the amount of cortisol in the circulation, and cortisol has been linked to depression.
Remind your teen who is undergoing treatment that results take time
Therapy and/or medication usually take some time to improve your teen’s mood or condition. Your child should try not to become discouraged if they don’t feel better right away!
For more information on the warning signs and what to watch for, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs”