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Adolescent Suicide: What You Need To Know

Our adolescents are vulnerable to the many stresses they face today—pressure to fit in, desire for approval, eager to belong, search for identity, stress to perform, as well as physical, emotional and chemical changes happening in their bodies. Adolescents can become easily distraught. What may seem small and trivial to us can be immensely overwhelming and allow vulnerability to suicidal thoughts.

Here are the sobering statistics for youth suicide:

  • A youth suicide (aged 15-24) occurs every 100 minutes
  • Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide
  • According to Center for Disease Control, in 2013, suicide was the second leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years
  • There is one suicide for every 100-200 attempts

This breaks my heart. Let’s educate ourselves to change this.

What can parents do?

Always take suicide-warning signs seriously. Sometimes when adolescents say they are going to hurt or kill themselves, it can feel like manipulation or a ploy to get attention. Nevertheless, if they are using these words as a way to manipulate or seek attention, deliberate anyway. Take them to get evaluated. You will ensure their safety and they will learn that their words are not taken lightly. Research shows that if kids are ignored when seeking attention, it may increase the chance of them harming themselves—or worse.

It’s important to know the warning signs for suicide in order to spot them. Keep a close eye on an adolescent who is depressed, anxious, or withdrawn. And, keep the lines of communication open. Let them know you are a safe place by expressing your care, support, concern, and love.

The Mayo Clinic encourages parents to ask questions. If you suspect your teen might be thinking about suicide, talk to him or her immediately. Don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide.” Talking about suicide won’t plant ideas in your teen’s head. Ask your teen to talk about his or her feelings and listen. Don’t dismiss his or her problems. Instead, reassure your teen of your love. Remind your teen that he or she can work through whatever is going on— and you’re willing to help.

Also, seek medical help for your teen. Ask your teen’s doctor to guide you. Teens who are feeling suicidal usually need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist who is experienced in diagnosing and treating children with mental health problems. The doctor will want to get an accurate picture of what’s going on from a variety of sources, such as the teen, parents or guardians, other people close to the teen, school reports, and previous medical or psychiatric evaluations.

Depression is the number one cause of suicide, yet parents often times avoid treating their child’s depression. They may fear the use of depression drugs—especially given the latest research attributing anti-depressant side affects for teen suicides. Instead, they do nothing. Don’t allow these fears to hold you back from having your child evaluated for depression and finding the right treatment.

Suicide Warning Signs:

It’s important to be aware of suicidal warning signs so you recognize the signs.

  • Looking sad most of the time (untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide)
  • Isolation, cutting off from family and friends
  • Feeling hopeless, helplessness, or worthlessness.
  • Have strong anger or rage.
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Have been bullied or feel misunderstood
  • Feel trapped like there is no way out of a situation
  • Lose interest in most activities
  • Give away prized possessions
  • Talk or write about death or suicide
  • Feel excessive guilt or shame
  • Experience a change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Lose interest in school or sports
  • Act impulsively or recklessly

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • Talk about suicide or death in general
  • Give away prized possessions
  • Signs that they convey that they might not be around anymore
  • Not feeling accepted by peers
  • Being ridiculed by classmates
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Any experience perceived as humiliating
  • Being bullied by classmates
  • Loneliness
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family, community, or hostile school environment
  • Death of a parent
  • Divorce of parents
  • Feeling caught between the middle of divorced parents
  • Joining a new family with a step-parent and step-siblings
  • Breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Not receiving mental health treatment
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family history of child maltreatment
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • History of mental disorders, particularly depression

Need Help? Do You Know Someone Who Does?

If you think your child is suicidal and in immediate danger call 911, or a suicide hotline number—such as:

Here are excellent resources for further information:

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