There has been a sharp increase in the number of adolescent suicides. According to the CDC, the suicide rate among adolescents and young adults from ages 10 to 24 has jumped 60% since 2011. Teens have reported struggling with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, and persistent thoughts of suicide. More than 20% of teens have seriously contemplated taking their own life according to the American Psychological Association. That’s why supporting the well-being of our children is more important than ever. September is Suicide Awareness Month. Here are a few important signs you should be aware of and things you can do to mitigate suicidal behavior.
Of course, not every trauma leads to suicidal thoughts, but knowing these risk factors can help you understand and identify negative thoughts and behaviors that might make a teen more likely to contemplate suicide:
- A profound loss of a friend, family member, or pet
- A painful breakup or loss of a close friendship
- Pressures on social media
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Psychological disorder
- Sexual orientation, especially if they’re in an environment that is less accepting or disrespectful of them.
There are many reasons why a teen may think about suicide, but there are many things you can do to help mitigate or prevent suicidal behavior:
Talk to your child
Studies have shown that positive family relationships decrease the likelihood that a teen will attempt suicide. Make sure they know they can come to you with any problem or concern, without judgment. Knowing they have your love and support can carry them through many life challenges. Assure them that you understand them by validating their feelings.
Teach them coping and problem-solving skills
Developing coping skills such as stress management, conflict resolution, and critical things can help your teen face stresses more effectively. These coping skills can be anything from meditation, engaging in a physical activity like sports or a walk in nature, volunteering, or playing with their pet.
Know who their friends are
Be an active participant in your teen’s life. Know who they’re hanging out with both in school and after school. Know those kids’ parents. You know the expression: it takes a village. By knowing the parents, you can form a safety net of sorts where it’s not just you who’s looking out for your teen’s welfare.
Keep weapons away
This sounds like a no-brainer, but if you have children or teens in the house, make sure all firearms are locked and secured.
Tell them you love them
This might also sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to say out loud. Many times, we assume the love is there, but when your teen is going through a particularly difficult time, they need to hear it from you. They need that support. They might not react, but showing them how much they mean to you matters.
Don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1
If you find yourself in a situation where your teen is about to do something harmful to themselves, don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1. If you don’t have a facility in your area that will provide immediate help for suicidal persons, take your child to the emergency room. You might feel guilty for doing this, but don’t! You will have done a hard thing—a brave thing—in order to keep your child safe. If you find that some family members or friends accuse you of overreacting, you need to tell them that you were doing what was best for your child. If they don’t get it, crowd in people in your circle that will be supportive.
Here is something you need to be aware of—going to the ER for a psychiatric event is different than going in for a physical ailment. There are no blood tests or resetting of broken bones for what your teen is going through. You might even walk out without a diagnosis or medications, but you may have prevented a terrible act. You will have a better understanding of how serious your child’s situation is and a game plan for next steps.
Seek professional help
It’s never too early to seek professional help if you suspect that your teen is having suicidal thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help change the way your teen thinks about a negative or painful situation, which in turn can change how they feel and act. It works by teaching them the connection between a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Their therapist will work hand in hand with them to develop new ways of thinking and learning new coping skills.
Finally, if you’ve ever heard your teen say things like, “I wish I wasn’t here”, “I don’t matter”, “I’d be better off dead”—even if you think they’re joking—take it seriously! Those words can be a cry for help. Listen to your teen and start talking!
If you suspect that your teen is having suicidal thoughts or exhibiting harmful behavior, please reach out to us immediately. The sooner the better. At Wallace Family Therapy, we are trained to provide the most effective treatment that meets your specific needs and challenges. We’re here to help you.