By Kenya Pieters, L.C.S.W., L.S.C.S.W.
Director of Clinical Services, Niles
The popular and controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has brought the topic of teen suicide to the forefront, and many professionals in the mental health field are debating whether it glorifies suicide or fosters discussions about mental health. Suicide is often an uncomfortable topic for caregivers, friends or loved ones to discuss. Despite the controversy over the series, it has prompted important discussions about this difficult subject.
The most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control identifies suicide as the second leading cause of adolescent death in the United States. The issue of suicide goes beyond those that unfortunately have died. Many more adolescents have or know someone who has attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts.
Who’s at risk for teen suicide?
Suicide crosses all boundaries of socio-economic class, race and gender. Any child can have suicidal thoughts. However, there are certain factors that place teens at a higher risk than others for suicide. These risk factors include:
- Mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Identifying as LGBTQ
- History of abuse/neglect/molestation
- Victim of bullying
- Lack of social/emotional supports
- Previous attempts
- Situational crises
Warning signs of suicide:
Adolescents that are contemplating suicide often show warning signs or concerning behaviors. These warning signs can consist of but are not limited to:
- Suicidal threats
- Withdrawing from friends/family
- Giving away belongings
- Apparent preoccupation with death/dying
- High risk behaviors
How You Can Help:
There are many myths about suicide, so it is important to understand the facts. Adolescents looking to pursue suicide are seeking to end the pain of their reality versus end their life. Most adolescents project warning signs that they are considering suicide. NEVER dismiss suicidal threats. Suicidal threats should be viewed as cries for help rather than attention seeking. Be willing to openly discuss feelings of depression or suicidal ideation. Do not fear that you will give your child the idea of committing suicide by having an open dialogue about it. Allowing your child the space to openly express their feelings shows that you are a trusted support. This also gives you insight into how you can help. Here are some more helpful tips:
- Maintain positive, open communication with your teen and identify your teen’s positive attributes
- Be engaged in their extra curricular activities
- Be aware of your child’s social environment and friends
- Appropriately monitor your child’s social media sites
- Limit access to items that could be used for suicide attempts (pills, guns, alcohol, etc.)
- Seek help from mental health professionals if needed and promote mental health wellness
Parents have power when talking to their teen about suicide. There are many things parents can do to build protective factors within youth as a guard against suicidal thoughts or attempts. Protective factors are skills, strengths and supports that aide youth in dealing with life stressors.
What to do if your teen talks about suicide
Hearing a child talk about suicide or make suicidal threats is very difficult. It is very important to remain as calm and supportive as possible. Identify if the child has a plan to follow through on the threats. The more detailed the plan for suicide indicates a higher risk of follow through.
It is extremely important to assess for safety. Remove any objects that can potentially be used for self-harm or suicide (ie. guns, razors, pills, etc.). Teens can be impulsive. Removing objects that can be used for self harm can create a barrier between the situational crisis and an impulsive act of suicide. When dealing with teens who are at risk of suicide, it is important to seek the help of a mental health professional. Mental health professionals can support, guide and educate teens and parents. Finding the right mental health resources can be a crucial first step on the path to providing hope and help for hurting teens.
If you know a child or young adult struggling with depression or experiencing thoughts of self-harm, contact our psychiatric hospitals at 1-866-KVC-CARES (582-2273), or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately.