If you you have recently had a teen suicide attempt at home, you’re understandably going through a wide range of emotions. You might vacillate between grief, shock, guilt, anger, worry, and a host of other feelings. In addition, you might have no idea what to do to support your teen and to minimize the chances that he or she will attempt it again, or worse, complete suicide the next time. When your teen is released from the hospital, here are some of the steps you can take to help him or her get through the aftermath.
Understand the Treatment Plan
When your teen is released from the hospital, he or she will be given a treatment plan of some sort. Many adolescents who have attempted suicide will go into an inpatient program that will keep them safe and begin addressing whatever issues are relevant. Some will go home and have outpatient treatment. Talk to the doctor discharging your child and find out what the plan is.
Once your teen is set up with a mental health professional, be certain that you understand the treatment plan. He or she might need to take medication; if this is the case, know what the medications are, what side effects to watch for, and what the dosage is. Therapy will also be part of the treatment. Be sure you know when and where you need to go. Also find out if there are other types of therapy, such as group therapy or family therapy.
Avoid Unhelpful Reactions
It’s natural to be very upset and shaken after a teen suicide attempt. While your feelings are valid, it’s important that you don’t allow your emotions to cause you to have unhelpful reactions that could end up hurting your teen. Some unhelpful reactions include ignoring the problem, accusing your teen of attention-seeking, lecturing your teen about how they should not have attempted suicide, trying to make them feel guilty, or simplifying the ordeal by saying that they just need to take their medication and they’ll be fine.
Instead, let your teen know that you are a safe person to talk to. Listen to what they have to say without judging. Let them know that you are very glad that they’re still with you and that they can come talk to you about anything at any time. Your teen might or might not want to talk about what happened. Respect their privacy while making yourself available.
Handle Your Teen’s School
The amount of information you share with your teen’s school is up to you and your teen. It’s helpful for the guidance counselor or school psychologist to know why your teen is out, as they can be an important part of the mental health care team. Depending on how your teen is doing, they might or might not be able to go back to school. You might need to arrange home-bound tutoring or you might need to simply allow your teen to take time off and catch up over the summer or at another time. Talk to the mental health care professionals treating your teen to find out when they might expect to return to school.
Keep Your House Safe
During the first six months to one year after the teen suicide attempt, you will need to be vigilant with your teen. Be absolutely certain that they cannot access guns or other weapons that they might use to attempt suicide again. Consider keeping medications, ropes, knives, and household chemicals locked up. Yes, it will be inconvenient, but it could avert a disaster.
Remember that your teen might not be thinking rationally so you should be watching them. Do not leave them home alone for a day or go away without them for a weekend, the way you might have before the attempt. Arrange for a responsible adult (not a younger sibling) to be in the home when your teen is.
Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Choices
While it’s not a cure, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help your teen recover more efficiently and begin to find joy in life once again. Encourage your teen to stick to a healthy diet. If he or she is deficient in any vitamins, their doctor might have recommended supplements, so be sure they take them. (Do not, however, start any type of vitamins or supplements without a doctor’s advice, and be sure to tell any prescribing doctors what medications, if any, your teen is taking.)
Encourage your teen to get plenty of sleep; most teens need a bit over nine hours of sleep each night. You might need to remove electronics from your teen’s bedroom. Getting some exercise each day will help, too. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day. It’s best for them to get outside most days, weather permitting, as well. These are ways help lessen the chances of teen suicide attempt.
Warning Signs of Another Teen Suicide Attempt
Keep your eye out for warning signs that another attempt might be imminent. Your teen’s counselor will probably talk to you about creating a safety plan, but if you do notice signs that your teen might be suicidal, call the therapist or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or take your teen to the emergency room. These signs can include
- Worsening or persistent depression
- Changes in appetite (not eating enough or eating too much)
- Changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or sleeping too much)
- Apathy, not caring about the people or activities they once enjoyed
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Acting recklessly or doing dangerous things
- Saying that they want to die
Get Counseling for Yourself
A teen suicide attempt is difficult for the parents as well. While you are being strong for your adolescent, it’s also important to take some time to address your own feelings and the trauma you have been through. Seek counseling for yourself so you can talk to someone about these emotions. You might also consider a support group for parents of a teen suicide attempt. Remember to take care of your own mental health so you will be in the position to help your teen manage theirs.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.