The period of adolescence is a time of change, both physically and mentally. Thus, possibly due to all of these changes, adolescents are reporting stress patterns that are similar to that of adults (Bethune, 2014). In fact, during the school year, adolescents report stress levels that are higher than that of adults. As a result of the stress, many teens are reporting feeling depressed. And in turn, depression is a potential risk factor for suicide.
According to one article by Kaslow and her colleagues (2013), “about 12 youth die by suicide” every day. So, how do parents recognize the warning signs or risk factors for suicide? And how do parents help their teens handle stress and therefore, reduce their chances of engaging in suicidal behavior?
Kaslow and her colleagues (2013) suggest that parents consider these 7 steps:
1. Know your facts
Parents should gain as much reputable information on suicide as they can. There is misinformation on suicide that may be going around, which in turn, can result in tragic consequences. For example, one may think that suicide is not a problem in adolescents, as they are “not old enough” to experience extreme levels of stress or to even think about suicide. This is not the case, as suicide is the “3rd leading cause of death among 10-24 year-olds.”
Also, as parents, know that you can recognize the warning signs and intervene- A professional is not the only one who can do this.
2. Recognize the warning signs.
Studies show that the majority of teen suicide attempts are preceded by warning signs. This does not mean that your child will attempt suicide, but it does mean that you should respond to your teen immediately and with empathy/concern.
According to an article by Stanford Children’s Health, these are some warning signs of suicidal behavior:
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Withdrawal from friends or family
- Unexplained or unusually violent behavior
- Sexual promiscuity, truancy, and vandalism
- Drastic personality changes (sadness, anxiety, exhaustion, for instance)
- Talking or writing about suicide
- Giving away prized possessions
- Doing worse in school
3.Know the risk factors
As a parent, you should know that there are certain situations and conditions that are related to more of a risk for suicide. For example, previous suicide attempts and mental health disorders (such as depression and anxiety) are related to a higher risk for suicide. In addition, parents should know that the following are also related to a higher risk of suicide:
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Feelings of hopelessness/guilt/loneliness/worthlessness/low self-esteem
- Loss of interest in friends or activities that were previously enjoyed
- Aggressive behavior
- Bullying or being a bully
- Disruptive behavior
- High-risk behaviors (drinking and driving)
- Recent or serious loss such as a death or divorce in the family
- Family history of suicide
- Family violence (child abuse, neglect, domestic violence)
- Sexual orientation and identity confusion,
- Access to lethal meals (such as gun or pills)
- Stigma that is related to asking for help
- Barriers to accessing mental health services (unreliable transportation, financial costs).
4.Know the Protective Factors
There are some protective factors that have been known to help reduce the chances of suicide. The following are some of those protective factors:
- Good problem-solving and conflict resolution skills
- Strong connections to family, friends, and community
- No access to lethal means
- Cultural and religious beliefs that support self-preservation rather than suicide
- Easy access to services
- Support from medical and mental health care relationships
- Self-esteem and a sense of purpose in life
As parents, we should work to increase these protective factors in our teens’ lives.
5.Take preventative measures
As a parent, please know that you can help protect your teen from the possibility of suicide. Here are some measures you can take:
- Interact with your teen in a positive way. For example, compliment your teen for good work and also be consistent in the feedback that you give them.
- Increase your teen’s involvement in positive activities such as in clubs, churches, and/or sports.
- Promote the safety of your teen by appropriately monitoring their whereabouts and communications (such as texts and social media).
- Be aware of your teen’s social environment (friends, coaches, teammates)
- Communicate with your teen’s teachers to be sure that your teen is safe at school.
- Limit your teen’s access to alcohol, pills, guns, or knives.
- Explain to your teen that therapy and medication is a good way to manage symptoms.
- Address your concerns with other adults in your child’s life such as teachers and coaches.
- Discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor in order to get a mental health referral.
6.Talk to your teen about suicide.
There is a common misconception that talking to your teen about suicide will increase the chances that they have suicidal thoughts, but there hasn’t been any evidence to support this.
It can also be intimidating and possibly anxiety-provoking to consider talking to your teen about a topic such as suicide. However, these tips can help the conversation go more smoothly for you:
- Encourage your teen to talk about what their feeling.
- Express loving concern and don’t invalidate your teen’s feelings. For instance, try to avoid saying things such as “You should appreciate all you have in life,” as this may downplay your teen’s pain.
- Talk calmly and in a non-judgmental way
- Express how important your teen is to you
- Focus on your concern for your teen’s well-being. In addition, express that to your teen.
- Use “I” statements in order to show that you understand the stressors that your teen may be experiencing.
- Encourage professional help-seeking behaviors
- Convey to your teen that seeking services can help, in particular, it can help change their outlook.
7. Seek mental health services.
Trust your instinct. If something doesn’t feel right or if you do notice warning signs of suicidal behavior, engage in appropriate action to protect your teen. Also, be sure to choose a mental health provider with experiencing handling youth suicide.
Above all else, if you feel that danger is imminent, call 911 immediately or take your child to the nearest emergency room.
Kuntry Kidz is a partner to the Jason Foundation, which is an organization that has an app available to help you or someone you know who may be struggling with suicide. It’s called “A Friend Asks,” and you can download this free app from the Apple app store or Google Play. The Jason Foundation also offers an online professional development series to help bring awareness to youth suicide and prevention. It is designed for educators, school personnel, and youth leaders.
Bethune, S. (2014). Teen stress rivals that of adults. Monitor on Psychology, 45, p. 20.
Kaslow, N., Kitsis, P., Thomas, M. A., & Lamis, D. A. (2013). 7 essential steps parents can take to prevent teen suicide. Retrieved from https://psychologybenefits.org/2013/09/23/prevent-teen-suicide.