Suicide is a tragic way for a teen to lose their life. Adolescents are at the very beginning of life their adult lives, and yet, many teens choose to end it. Trouble at school, bullying, relationship issues, violence, or abusive parents are a few factors that can contribute to teen suicide. According to the Jason Foundation, each day there are over 5200 teens in grades 7-12 who make a suicide attempt. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens between the ages of 10-24.
13 Reasons to Talk about Teen Suicide
The nation has started talking about the teen suicide (despite the fact that it’s been a national issue for some time) because of a recently released Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why. The series documents the fictional events leading up to the suicide of a young girl (Hannah Baker) and the aftermath of her death. The girl leaves behind 13 audio recordings which contains information on why she killed herself, and she leaves the recordings behind for those who most contributed to her decision to end her life.
The Netflix series was released on March 31, 2017 and since then actors from the show are speaking out about teen suicide. In fact, Kate Walsch, who plays Hannah’s grieving mother commented that she feels the series should be required viewing for all teens to watch. One of the reasons why the show is stimulating a conversation is because the series depicts the tragedies and truths of teen suicide that is generally hard to talk about.
Talking to Your Teen about Suicide
Suicide and death in general are not topics that families generally talk about. However, if you have concerns about your teen or if your teen is showing signs of depression, then having an open, honest conversation about suicide is worthwhile. Here are some important things to share:
- Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Everything changes in time.
- There are tools and resources that can help take the pain away so that you don’t have to struggle anymore.
- I’m here for you and I love you very much.
- We can work through this together so that you don’t have to face this alone.
- Getting help from a mental health provider can assist with managing the suicidal thoughts. It must be hard to have those thoughts.
- The physical and emotional changes you are going through as a teen can create occasional mood swings, which might make you more vulnerable to depression.
These are some general ideas of what you can share with your teen. Notice that the above statements not only provide information (There is support out there for you) but also provides empathy and emotional connection (I’m here for you). This can help a teen feel supported and not alone. It can also help a teen feel accepted, which is a big contributor to preventing teen suicide.
Looking for Signs of Suicide
Even after a talk with your teen, you may still have concerns. Research shows that 4 out of 5 teens who completed suicides left behind warning signs. This means that if those signs were noticed and recognized those teens’ lives might have been prevented. Research also says that with enough warning signs up to 80% of teens’ lives could be saved. For instance, if you notice that your teen is frequently sad, periods of sadness are triggered by small things, and periods are lasting a long time, then there may be reason to be concerned. Other emotional signs your teen may be contemplating suicide include:
- extreme mood swings
- feeling helpless
- feeling hopeless
- withdrawing from family and/or friends
- feeling alone or lonely
- having an overwhelming feeling of loss
- lacking energy
- inability to concentrate
- losing interest in school or poor grades
Sometimes, the signs of suicidal thinking might be a little more obvious. Instead of having to interpret the emotional state of your adolescent, they may provide a sign that a bit more clear, such as:
- making threats of suicide – either direct or indirect
- having an obsession with death
- giving or throwing away favorite possessions
- making verbal hints such as “I won’t be around much longer” or “It’s hopeless.
In addition to the above signs, there may be specific factors in a teen’s life that can make them more vulnerable to making an attempt at suicide or taking their life. For instance, consider the following contributing factors when thinking about your teen:
- previous attempts at suicide have been made
- your teen struggles with the abuse of drugs or alcohol
- there are few individuals available to support your teen
- your teen not only has an intent but also the means and a plan to do so
- your teen is struggling with a terminal illness
- your teen struggles with mental illness
Mental Illness and Teen Suicide
The last item listed above is particularly important if your teen is struggling with depression or other forms of mental illness.
Depression: Research shows a clear connection between thoughts that commonly appear with depression and the desire to commit suicide. Typically, symptoms of depression include suicidal thoughts, along with irritability, guilt, loss of interest in activities, social withdrawal, and loss of motivation, among others.
Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar is a mental illness that includes a swing of moods between depression and mania. Many bipolar teens report that when they are in the depressed state, their mood can get dark and include suicidal thinking.
Schizophrenia: When a teen is diagnosed with a mental illness that is life-long or feels imprisoning, it can interfere with their ability to enjoy their life. In turn, they are more apt to contemplate suicide. The idea that they are destined to live with a mental illness for the rest of their life can be detrimental to their psychological well being.
If you continue to have concerns about your teen, getting a mental health provider involved may be critical. That professional can work with your teen on how to manage their suicidal thoughts, provide them with coping tools, and possibly connect them with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication to help ease a depressed mood. In fact, a recent study found that when there is a delay between diagnosis of a mental illness and treatment, there is a greater risk for teens to take their life.
If you want to ensure the psychological well being of a teen who you fear may be having suicidal thoughts, contact a mental health provider today.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.