Suicide: It’s the second-leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 24. This means that more middle school, high school, and college students die by suicide than they do from cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, AIDS, influenza, stroke, and lung disease combined. As a parent, the thought of your teen having suicidal thoughts probably sends a shiver down your spine. No one wants to believe that their adolescent will be a victim, but each day in the U.S., there are nearly 3,500 suicide attempts in high school students. This number does not account for middle school students or college students. It’s important to know the signs of suicidal thoughts and ideation, because the vast majority of teens who attempt suicide show warning signs. Read on to learn more about suicide in teens and what you can do to make your teenager safer.
Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Concerns
Many teens who have suicidal thoughts and ideation are suffering from various mental health issues. Severe depression is one mental illness that can lead to an attempted or completed suicide. If your teen has depression, be sure that he or she is getting the help needed to overcome this disease. Often, treatment for depression includes both cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Be aware that stopping medication suddenly can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts.
It’s not only depression that can cause suicidal tendencies. Various types of anxiety can also be to blame. Two types of anxiety that can cause suicidal thinking are:
Teens with ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses might also be at an increased risk. Talk to your teen’s mental health professional and stay vigilant for the signs of suicidal ideation.
Bullying and Other Environmental Concerns
Bullying is a common behavior that can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts for both the bullies themselves and their victims. The risk is the highest for teens who have been both bullies and victims. Part of the issue might be that teens with psychiatric disorders have a higher risk of being bullied, bullying others, and also attempting suicide. Regardless of the causation, there is definitely a link between bullying and suicide, so if your teen is on either side of a bullying situation, this is worth keeping in mind.
In addition to bullying, there are other factors that might be taking place in a teen’s environment or life that might contribute to a raised risk of suicide. These include:
- A recent death in the family or circle of friends.
- Another type of loss, such as an unwanted move or a parental divorce.
If one teen in a crowd commits suicide, it’s important to remember that suicide can be “contagious,” meaning that others in the same circle, even in the outer rings, might be tempted to attempt suicide as well.
Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
Many of the symptoms of being at risk for suicide are the same as those for severe depression. They include:
- Sadness, hopelessness or a feeling that nothing will ever get better.
- Anger or irritability.
- Frequent crying.
- Avoiding friends and family members; isolation.
- Dropping school and work responsibilities.
- A lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Eating too much or too little.
These signs can indicate depression, which often leads to suicidal thoughts and ideation.
Once a teen begins to plan his or her suicide, you might notice some different signs, which include the following:
- Less sadness, a new feeling that things are going to be fine.
- Giving away personal items.
- Making amends with those they’ve argued or fought with.
- Trying to tie up loose ends, saying goodbye.
- Making references to “when I’m gone.”
- Talking about wanting to die.
- Researching and gathering a weapon or pills.
- Writing a suicide note.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Suicide
Opening up a dialogue about suicide with your teen can let him or her know that you’re willing to discuss the topic. It can feel uncomfortable, but your child’s life could be at stake, so it’s important to push through your discomfort and have some conversations. Here are a few tips on how to talk to your teen about this topic:
- You should choose a good time when your teen is likely to be open to a serious discussion.
- You can also tie it into recent events in the news or even on a television show.
- Ask your teen direct questions, such as whether they’ve ever considered suicide.
- Remember not to overreact; while the topic is vital, if you lose your cool, your teen is not going to want to confide in you again.
Follow up on any answers that leave you uncomfortable or concerned. It’s not a discussion that needs to be finished in one day; you should revisit it when the opportunity arises.
What to Do If Your Teen Is Suicidal
If you suspect or know that your teen has been having suicidal thoughts, you need to act quickly. In an emergency situation, such as one where your teen has a weapon and is threatening his or her safety, do whatever you need to do to get them to the hospital. You can call 911 if they won’t willingly get in your car to be driven. At the emergency room, the doctors will be able to address the crisis and put you in touch with people who can give your teen the help he or she needs.
In an non-emergency situation, contact your child’s primary care doctor. They will be able to refer them to the appropriate mental health care provider. This might be a psychologist or a psychiatrist. That doctor can make the decision whether your teen needs to be admitted to an inpatient facility for treatment.
Suicide is a topic that no parent ever wants to think about at the same time that they’re thinking about their child. Ignoring the topic, however, could put your teen’s life at risk. Make sure that you are watching for signs of depression and other mental health concerns, as well as for signs that your child is being bullied or otherwise going through a hard time. Then take the steps necessary to keep your teen safe. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you are afraid that your teen is in danger.
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.