Talking About Teen Suicide
Understanding and preventing teen suicide
I recently joined the provider network for a local cause, The Second Wind Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding and preventing teen suicide. While it is a painful and difficult topic, parents and caregivers need to be aware of the risks and warning signs.
You might be shocked to learn that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Colorado youth, ages 10-19. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 17.7 percent of high school students nationwide had seriously considered suicide in the previous year; 8.6 percent attempted suicide.
Those alarming statistics do have a positive side: With intervention, teen suicide can be prevented.
Here’s what you should know:
Teen suicide warning signs
Take note if your teen begins to display these warning signs:
- Prior suicide attempts
- Giving away prized possessions
- Preoccupation with death and dying
- Reckless behavior and unnecessary risk-taking
- Withdrawing from family and other people who offer to help
- Less attention to hygiene and personal appearance
- Avoiding friends and social situations
- Express feelings of hopelessness and/or having no reason to live
- Increase in substance abuse
- History of violence
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities they previously enjoyed
In addition, risk for suicide goes up after a significant loss in a teen’s life or an event that produces feelings of shame and humiliation.
What parents and caregivers can do
First, while signs of hope and reasons to live might seem obvious to you, remember that your teen in crisis might not be able to access those same feelings. Studies have shown links between mental health factors, such as depression, and suicide. In addition, the brains of individuals who have contemplated suicide display a number of differences in serotonin receptors and proteins in the brain that play a role in mood.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the brain factors associated with suicide may differ in teens and adults as well:
“As discussed earlier, the characteristics of teenage suicide may differ from those of adult suicide, which suggests that the neurobiology of teenage suicide may, in some respects, be different from that of adult suicide.”
Simply stated, your teen’s brain might be temporarily wired in a negative loop. Positive feelings might be harder to come by. So, approach your at-risk teen with that assumption in mind. In many cases, he or she might not be able to “snap out of it.” However, there are several ways you can help:
- Talk about it. It’s a common myth that talking about suicide can increase risk of a suicide attempt, but the opposite is true. Talking to your teen about his or her suicidal thoughts can decrease the risk.
- Express your care and concern. Let your teen know you are there to listen without judgement and that you love him or her.
- Limit the risk inside your home. This infographic from The Second Wind Fund identifies several ways you can help make your home safer, including locking up firearms and medications.
- Seek emergency help. If your teen is in crisis mode, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Seek long-term professional help. Counseling, combined with medication as appropriate, can help a teen break out of the suicidal thought loop.
As the parent or caregiver, also remember that you don’t need to handle this crisis alone. Do not keep it a secret. Reach out to supportive loved ones and friends, community organizations focused on suicide prevention and professional counselors.
If you suspect your teen might be at risk for suicide, educate yourself about the resources available to you, including:
- The Second Wind Fund. Colorado-based nonprofit organization focused on teen suicide prevention.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. National resource for all-ages suicide prevention.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the site for hotlines in Spanish, for the deaf/hearing impaired, veterans and disaster crisis lines.
- Crisis Text Line. Trained crisis counselors are available by text 24/7; text 741741.
In addition, you may contact me for suicide counseling services at 720-630-1373 or email@example.com.
My practice serves individuals, couples and families in the central Denver area. The first 50-minute consultation is free.