The idea of losing a child is devastating to a parent, but thousands of American teens die every year to suicide. Find out how you can tell if your teenager is having suicidal thoughts, and what you can do to prevent teen suicide.
Teen Suicide is More Than a Demand for Attention
Teenage suicide happens any time an adolescent takes his or her own life. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24. More than just a cry for help or demand for attention, any attempt at self-harm or suicide is a symptom of a mental illness that should be treated seriously by parents, teachers, and other adults in the teen’s life.
What Causes Teen Suicide?
There is no one cause for suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) among teenagers. Often, the idea of suicide may be a symptom of an underlying mental illness such as depression or anxiety. A family history of mood disorders or exposure to suicide can also increase the risk. Major life changes and stressful events at home, school, and among friends can also trigger suicidal thoughts. These could include:
- Romantic break-ups
- Receiving negative test scores or grades
- Conflict with close friends or family
- Medical issues or diagnosis
- Coming out or questioning sexuality or gender identity
- Parental separation or divorce
- Physical, mental, or sexual abuse
What do Teenage Suicide Attempts Look Like?
Your teenager probably won’t come out and tell you that they are considering suicide. They may avoid asking for help or talking about issues that are making them feel hopeless, worthless, or trapped. As a parent you may not realize that your teen is considering suicide until it is too late.
Among younger children and tweens, suicide attempts are often impulsive. As they get older, teens’ suicide attempts may become more deliberate. Girls are about twice as likely to think about or attempt suicide, often by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. However, boys are four times as likely to succeed in committing suicide, often because they choose more lethal methods. For example, nearly 60% of all successful suicides involve a gun.
Signs Parents Should Watch for to Prevent Teen Suicide
Because teens may hide their depression, anxiety, or stress from their parents, you need to be particularly alert to the signs of suicidal thoughts:
- Talking or writing about dying, being dead, or “not being a problem much longer”
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and enjoyable activities
- Physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Self-destructive behaviors including ignoring schoolwork
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Giving away belongings
- Preoccupation with death or dying
What to Do if You Think Your Teen is Having Suicidal Thoughts
If you think your teen is considering suicide, you must talk to them right away. If you suspect he or she is in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255), or take them to the emergency room.
In less urgent situations, you can start with a conversation. It may be frightening as a parent, and you may worry about putting the idea into their head, but it is important to ask:
- Are you feeling sad or depressed?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Have you ever thought about killing yourself?
Being the one to raise the question will show your teen that you care and give them a chance to talk about their problems.
At the same time, be open to the possibility that you won’t be the one they talk to. If you believe your child is considering suicide, tell their teachers, coaches, clergy, counselors, and other influential adults so they can be ready to listen as well. You may even consider asking your teen’s friends to give them extra support if you know they are going through a difficult time.
Next, get your teen medical help. Antidepressants and therapy can effectively improve mood and reduce the risk of suicide in the long run. Working with an experienced adolescent therapist can help to monitor your child’s thoughts, mood, and behavior, and give them a safe place to voice their concerns, so they don’t feel compelled to end their life.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Contact David Stanislaw to get help for your teen today.