Suicide. It’s something that no parent ever wants to think will affect their child. Unfortunately, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults. While suicidal thoughts cannot always be detected before a suicide attempt is made, there are some suicide danger signs that you can be vigilant for when dealing with your teenager. Take a look at the list of suicide danger signs and see whether any of them apply to your child or any of your loved ones. Then read on for advice on how to handle seeing these suicide danger signs.
1. Clinical Depression
The majority of people who commit suicide are feeling depressed at the time. While sometimes it might be circumstantial (for example, a breakup with a romantic partner), many other times it’s a case of clinical depression, which is defined as depression symptoms lasting for longer than two weeks. Keep in mind that the symptoms of depression, which include changes in eating, insomnia or oversleeping, fatigue, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities, could be a precursor to an eventual suicide attempt.
It can be difficult to differentiate depression from the normal ups and down of adolescence. Keep in mind that generally, depression lasts two weeks or more. If your teen is upset over an acute situation and the symptoms last just a few days, it’s likely not true depression. While it’s possible that an upsetting situation might cause suicidal thoughts or even an attempt, most people who commit suicide are dealing with a mental issue like clinical depression. Still, if you are concerned, get help for your child.
2. Tying Up Loose Ends
A teen who has decided that suicide might be the answer is likely to try to make amends and otherwise tie up loose ends before an attempt. For example, they might reach out to family members with whom they haven’t been in recent contact. Your son or daughter might take on a newfound interest in writing belated thank-you letters or calling aunts, uncles, or grandparents whom they don’t see often. If your child has been in an argument with someone, they might try to apologize.
He or she might also begin giving away treasured items to close friends and family members. If your child suddenly and uncharacteristically gives away a prized musical instrument or a valuable piece of jewelry or a collection, take this very seriously, because it could mean that a suicide attempt is imminent.
3. Talking About Certain Topics
Many who are considering suicide don’t open up and talk to others about how they’re feeling, which can make it difficult to see their pain. If your teen does talk about feeling hopeless, insinuate that others would be happier if they were gone, or that they have no reason to live, however, this could be a cry for help and a clue that they’re contemplating suicide. Your teen might feel that they’re a burden to you or others, or they might talk about what the family would be like if he or she died.
Your teen might also have a fascination or deep interest in death, weapons, or similar topics. They might search online for suicide methods, how to procure a gun, what it’s like to die, and so on. If the topics of conversation or coming up in your teen’s search history are concerning, take it seriously and get him or her the help needed. Do keep in mind, however, that some teens are interested in the mysteries of death without there being any sinister reason. Talk to your child to find out what is fueling the interest.
4. Environmental or Historical Issues
There are some factors that can increase the chance that your teen might be considering suicide, even if there are no other suicide danger signs. Experiencing a traumatic event, for example, might make a suicide attempt more likely. So can a recent suicide among his or her group of friends or acquaintances. Mental health issues can run in families, so if you have a family member who has clinical depression or a mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, be aware of those symptoms so you can intervene if you see them showing up in your teen.
Another potential consideration is if your teenager has attempted suicide before. A previous attempt could lead to another one, particularly if treatment ends or if your teen stops taking his or her medications. Being on antidepressants can also cause suicidal thoughts, particularly in teenagers.
Getting Help If You Notice These Suicide Danger Signs
First, always take these suicide danger signs and any suspicion that your teen is contemplating suicide seriously. It’s far better to respond to a “false alarm” than to ignore true signs of suicidal ideation. If you suspect that your teen is dealing with clinical depression or another mental illness, make a prompt appointment with his or her pediatrician or family doctor. Ask for a referral to the appropriate mental health care specialist, and if the doctor disregards your concerns, seek a second opinion.
If you think that your teen is in immediate danger, take him or her to the nearest emergency room or call 911. While this is not the ideal option for treatment, those in the emergency department will know how to get your teen out of acute danger. In some cases, a suicidal teen will be held for a few days so the doctors can properly assess the situation before referring him or her to an inpatient or outpatient treatment center.
Follow the treatment plan and the instructions that the mental health care team gives you, and support your teen by taking him or her to appointments and, if necessary, monitoring medication use. Don’t be discouraged if the first medication tried doesn’t work well; drugs given for mental health issues often need to be changed and tinkered with. Talk to the prescribing doctor about any concerns you may have.
Helping your teen through this difficult time will be hard on you, too. Once the immediate crisis has passed, don’t be shy about getting counseling for yourself to help you deal with the feelings and anxiety that having a suicidal child can cause. Try to keep the lines of communication open with your teen and let him or her know that you are there to help.
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.