Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-19 year-olds in the United States. A far greater number of youths attempt suicide each year. These are shocking statistics, but we also know that most youths who die by suicide suffer from a mental or substance use disorder, or both. It is important to look for signs of substance abuse or depression and get professional help for your child.
-CDC and Prevention
What are signs that my child could be suicidal?
80 percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. Some teens will give more warning signs than others, and the signs can be subtle. However, most teens who complete or attempt suicide give some type of warning to loved ones ahead of time. It’s important to know the warning signs and to watch carefully so that kids who might be suicidal can get the help they need.
A specific event, stress, or crisis—like sexual abuse, bullying, break-up or a death in the family—can trigger suicidal behavior in someone who is already feeling depressed and showing the warning signs listed as follows:
- Complaints of being a bad person or feeling “rotten inside”
- Verbal hints like “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” “Nothing matters,” “It’s no use,” “I won’t see you again,” “I wish I were dead,” and “I’m going to end it all.”
- Putting affairs in order. Giving away favorite material possessions
- Increased irritability, anger or hostility
- Talking about or writing about suicide or death
Warning Signs that need immediate attention
- A psychological disorder, especially depression, bipolar disorder, and/or alcohol and drug
use (90% of people who die by suicide have a psychological disorder at the time of death)
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
- Repeated failures at school
- Isolation from peers
- Violent behavior
- A previous suicide attempt
- A family history of depression or suicide (depressive illnesses may have a genetic
component, so some teens may be predisposed to suffer major depression)
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social
- Identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) in an
unsupportive family or community and/or hostile school environment
My teen exhibits warning signs indicating that they may be suicidal. How do I approach the situation?
Watch and Listen
- Keep a close eye on a teen who seems depressed and withdrawn. Poor grades, for example, may signal that your teen is withdrawing at school.
- Do not minimize or discount what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.
- Listen optimally: give your child your full attention.
Ask Questions & Communicate!
Some parents are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide in their teen’s head. It’s always a good idea to ask, even though doing so can be difficult.
- Be willing to listen. Directly ask if he/she is thinking about suicide (e.g., “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”).
- Communicate your concerns. Sometimes it helps to explain why you’re asking. For instance, you might say: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?” Keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a teen it can feel immense and consuming. If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor. Focus on/emphasize your concern for your child’s well-being.
- Take it seriously. All suicide threats and attempts must be taken seriously or go to the nearest emergency room.
- Do not keep the information a secret. You do not have to be certain that someone is suicidal before you talk with another person, preferably a trained adult such as a counselor, social worker, teacher, school nurse, family physician.
- Seek professional help. Encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.
- Reassure your child that there is help and he/she will not feel like this forever
- Do not judge
- Avoid being accusatory
- Provide constant supervision. Don’t leave your child alone.
- REMOVE MEANS FOR SELF-HARM! (e.g., FIREARMS!, large quantities of pills and sharp objects such as knives and razors)
- 85% of youth under 18 who died by suicide used a family member’s gun, usually a parent’s.
- Firearms are used more than any other means and they are the most lethal. Guns in the home increase the risk of suicide whether someone has a mental disorder or not.
- Store household guns away from the home either temporarily (if someone in the house has a short-term crisis) or more permanently (if problems are more chronic).
- If you must keep a firearm in the home, keep it unloaded and locked with the ammunition stored in a locked location separate from the firearm. A securely locked cabinet or safe provides good protection. Make sure that it truly cannot be opened by an unauthorized person (e.g., no glass fronts, no flimsy locks). Trigger locks also provide added safety.
- Removing firearms from the home or storing them properly can dramatically reduce the risk of suicide.
- Get help: seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible