Troubled Teens and Suicide
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, suicide among 15 to 24 year olds falls as the top three cause of death. This translates to roughly 5,000 teenagers who die by their own hand every year and more than 120,000 suicide attempts. As parents, these statistics give one fear: “What if it happens to my child?”
Does my child have a high risk for teen suicide?
The stresses that teenagers experience (failing a test, having one’s heart broken, facing family issues such as his parents’ divorce) can, for some, be simply a stage that they need to go through. However, there are some troubled teens who are more vulnerable and who feel too overwhelmed to cope with challenges and obstacles they face.
These include teens who suffer from psychological issues (including depression and anxiety disorders), as well as substance use and abuse issues. Other high-risk teens are also those who have been victims of domestic violence, those who have been sexually abused sexually and those who struggle with his sexual orientation.
For these teens who are already considered high-risk, additional situations can further exacerbate the threat of suicide:
– indicators that the teen is being bullied at school
– poor academic performance (especially from a teen who has performed averagely or well in the past)
– truancy problems
– losing someone close due to suicide
– a family history of suicide, depression or mental disorders and substance abuse
– a history of suicide attempts
– problems with behavior or discipline
– issues with low self-esteem
– isolation or lack of a sense of belonging, or moving to a new community
– being involved in a stressful event especially one that involves loss or grief
Remember, though, that suicide risk is not defined by gender, social standing, or educational background. However, parents still need to be on the lookout for these red flags:
– Pre-occupation with death. If your child is talking about death or is pre-occupied with the subject, it can be an indicator. Some off-hand statements such as, “I want to die!” or “You’ll be happier when I’m dead” should not be taken lightly but should be treated as cues for you to talk to your teen.
– Abrupt changes in behavior and moods. Signs include when your teen starts sending letters to those who are close to him, get access to guns or knives and shows drastic changes to his sleeping and eating patterns.
– Self-destructive spiral. Is your child on a path towards self-destruction? Has he attempted to run away from home? Has he made previous attempts at suicide? Are there indicators that he has been self-harming?
– Actions that say, “Goodbye”. This includes your teen writing a suicide note or his will or when he starts giving away treasured items. He may also tell those who are close to him that they do not have to worry about him anymore.
When your child attempts suicide
A suicide attempt is a cry for help that should not be ignored or minimized. It is your troubled teen saying that there are things that are too hard or heavy for them to handle. It can also be your teen expressing his anger at the things that are happening to him that he feels is beyond his control.
– Call for emergency response. If you find your child attempting suicide, call 911 at once. This is to minimize any damage resulting from the suicide attempt.
– Show your support. This is not the time to scold your teen. Rather, you need to show him that you are there when he needs you.
– Establish communication lines. Communication does not mean a one-sided lecture from you. More than ever, this is the time to encourage your teen to open up. Do your best to listen without unnecessarily criticizing or trying to provide solutions or reasons why his feelings don’t make sense. Avoid comparing your teen with others, rather allow him to simply share his story and feelings. If your teen has trouble opening up with you, encourage him to do so with a trusted friend. Sometimes, a teen may feel more comfortable talking to someone else, even a stranger at the local suicide watch helpline. Encourage him to open up, just to provide him with an outlet with which to share his pent-up feelings.
– Do your homework. Research about support groups and troubled teen treatment programs that specialize on suicide prevention. Read up on insights related to teen suicides so you can better understand what your teen is going through.
– Limit access to potential harmful objects. Keep guns under lock and key. Hide knives, harmful chemicals and medicines. If there are indications that the threat of suicide is something that may happen soon, make sure that your teen is never alone – someone has to be nearby to check up on him from time to time.
– Ask for help. The teen may need to be evaluated physically and mentally. You can consult a therapist or you can go to therapy as a family. You can also consider enrolling your child in a therapeutic boarding school to remove your teen from his stressful environment and for him to get therapeutic assistance and professional care.