If you’re worried about your teen, you’re not alone.
Utah’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 15.5% of Utah high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, 12.8% made a suicide plan, and 7.3% attempted suicide one or more times. And the numbers keep climbing.
But even though teens need our help, they may push us away if they:
Fortunately, you don’t have to take no for an answer. There’s a lot we can do as parents to help prevent suicidal thoughts from manifesting into a suicide attempt. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and many mental health organizations strongly recommend taking all suicide threats and talk of wanting to die seriously. Do not write these behaviors off as teen melodrama. It’s better to overreact than to underreact.
If you’re worried your child is thinking about suicide, ask them about it. Don’t let suicide remain a taboo topic. Your calm approach and assurance that there is no reason to feel guilty or ashamed may be the signal they need to open up. Be ready to listen to their problems without minimizing them.
Don’t give up if your first try at opening a conversation doesn’t work. If we’ve trivialized their problems in the past (and we all have), it may take time for your teen to confide in you. Keep listening and keep offering a judgment-free ear.
As mentioned in the first part of this series, access to lethal methods is a huge risk factor for suicide. If your teen is battling depression, mental illness, or having suicidal thoughts, take action. Lock up or remove guns, safely dispose of old medications and keep the rest under lock and key.
Whether it’s your pediatrician, a mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, or a grief counselor, there is a trained professional that can help your teen through their specific problems like depression, grief, substance abuse, or other mental health problems. Getting help early can make all the difference. Beginning treatment also does not mean your child will need life-long psychiatric care.
The prescribed treatments and appointments for your child’s recovery may go on for months and will require a lot of your time and investment. Even if your teen seems to be doing better, it’s important to follow through on all appointments. Suicidal thoughts can come and go, and your teen needs to develop healthy coping skills in case they return.
Treatment takes time to work. Help your child have realistic expectations and not be hard on themselves if they don’t begin to feel better immediately.
The AAP recommends against excessive alone-time and downtime for kids battling suicidal thoughts. We don’t need to stuff their schedules with activities, but there are several ways we can ensure free time is helping, not hurting, their mental state.
For a child or teen struggling with depression, the AAP recommends frequent exercise even if it’s only walking. Not only has regular exercise been shown to take the edge off depression and boost self-esteem, walking together may provide the perfect context shift for your child to open up to you.
Because suicides and attempts seem to trigger more of the same in a peer group, it’s possible one of your child’s friends is also struggling. Talking with teens about suicide and showing them how to access help equips them to respond if one of their friends is contemplating suicide. Talking about the reasons behind suicide and what to look for will allow them to connect with those who need it and realize there’s no place for shame or blame in matters of mental health.
Not only could these conversations help save someone else’s child, they may be the shortcut you need to keep an open dialogue with your child about the progress of their recovery.