Often teenagers who attempt suicide show warning signs along the way. Recognizing these signs can help parents identify a risk and seek intervention right away. I think most parents have heard their teen exclaim, "I'm going to kill myself/him/her!" when very upset. So sometimes it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking it is attention seeking behavior. It is very important to understand that if teens are ignored it increases the odds that they will harm themselves.
If your teen is showing signs of depression, watch them closely. Sometimes the signs of depression shown are different from what many commonly think. Depression is not always persistent crying and sadness. You may see a shift in grades, sleep patterns, irritability, changes in friends such as being withdrawn or social challenges.
Try to connect with your teen openly. Let them know that you care and are always available to them even if it is just to listen. Remember that the types of issues that feel critical to your teen are probably different from what you may consider critical as an adult. Make sure that you convey understanding and validation and that you take their concerns seriously. If it seems like your teen might be more comfortable talking with someone else, help them by making neutral suggestions like a school coach or counselor.
Above all, respect their privacy going forward or they may be very reluctant to trust and confide in you or others down the road. If care is taken to suggest trustworthy community based third parties, rest assured that they will take appropriate intervention steps such as calling authorities if the situation is critical.
If your teen is in a crisis situation, your local emergency room can conduct a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and refer you to the appropriate resources. If you're unsure about whether you should bring your child to the emergency room, contact your doctor or call (800) SUICIDE for help.
If you've scheduled an appointment with a mental health professional, make sure to keep the appointment, even if your teen says he or she is feeling better or doesn't want to go. Suicidal thoughts do tend to come and go; however, it is important that your teen get help developing the skills necessary to decrease the likelihood that suicidal thoughts and behaviors will emerge again if a crisis arises.
If your teen refuses to go to the appointment, discuss this with the mental health professional — and consider attending the session and working with the clinician to make sure your teen has access to the help needed. The clinician also might be able to help you devise strategies to help your teen want to get help.
Remember that ongoing conflicts between a parent and child can fuel the fire for a teen who is feeling isolated, misunderstood, devalued, or suicidal. Get help to air family problems and resolve them in a constructive way. Also let the mental health professional know if there is a history of depression, substance abuse, family violence, or other stresses at home, such as an ongoing environment of criticism.
If you have any suspicions that drug use may be playing a role in any concerning behaviors you may observe, here is a great place for additional resources Drugless.org. Drugless.org was created to assist families that are struggling with addiction which is all too often a contributing factor in teen suicide.
In case you might be thinking "good information for other parents, but this won't happen to my child....", please make just a few minutes to watch this message from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide:
We all have bad days, or weeks, or even months. We all feel overwhelmed at times. Things usually get better. Sometimes that's hard to remember when you're down. But stress, depression, and even suicide happen in the lives of people young and old.
Be aware of real trouble signs. Any one of these alone, lasting only a short time, is normal. But if you know a friend with several of these problems lasting more than a couple of weeks, they may be nearing a crisis. They need help. The warning signs can include:
CConnect. Make contact. Reach out, talk to them. Notice their pain.
LListen. Take the time and really pay attention. You don't have to have all the answers. Just listen.
UUnderstand. Nod, pay attention, let them know you appreciate what they are going through.
EExpress Concern. Say that you care, you are worried, and you want to be helpful.
SSeek Help. Tell them you want to go with them to talk to a third person, preferably an adult with experience and the ability to help. Don't agree to be secretive. Enlarge the circle of support.
Source: Produced by Communication and Educational Technology Services, University of
Last Updated: 1/9/2012
A free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you. No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living.
The Trevor Project is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing life-saving and life-affirming resources including a nationwide, 24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone.