One of the issues that parents of American teenagers most fear is suicide. Teen suicide is one of the biggest killers of teens today, and rates have increased significantly over the past several decades.
Teenage boys are at a greater risk of committing suicide than teenage girls. Paradoxically, suicidal tendencies are twice as prevalent in teenage girls, but girls are much less likely than boys to succeed with their suicide attempts.
Spotting a Teenager with Suicidal Tendencies
Nobody really knows what drives an individual to attempt suicide. However, experts have suggested that certain adolescents are more susceptible to suicidal tendencies than others. Key risk factors include:
- A family history of suicide or mental health problems
- A history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse within the home
- A recognized psychiatric condition such as depression
- Alcohol abuse
- Previous attempts to run away from home.
Immediate Signs of Suicidal Tendencies in Teens
Parents need to be able to recognize signs that their teenager might be considering suicide. Urgent warning signs include:
- A sudden interest in death
- Dependence on alcohol or drugs
- Depressed or anxious mood
- Efforts to sell or give away personal possessions
- Increasing rebellion or anger
- Reckless behavior such as careless driving
- Threats to harm or kill themselves
- Withdrawal from friends and family.
Although adults may be tempted to dismiss suicide threats as attention-seeking behavior, all threats should be taken seriously. Teenagers who threaten suicide need help, whether they genuinely intend to commit suicide or not.
Suicide Prevention for Teens at Risk
Below are some tips for parents on helping a teen who may be having thoughts of suicide:
- Actively seek help for your teen. Remember that an adolescent with suicidal tendencies has lost all hope and will not have the energy to seek help.
- Arrange appointments with professionals for your teenager and attend with them if they wish.
- Avoid judging them or their opinions.
- Don’t preach or patronize. Phrases such as “things could be worse” do little to help someone who has depression. Help them instead by giving them hope that alternatives exist.
- Listen carefully and resist the temptation to leap in and solve their problems.
- Remove from the home (or lock up) drugs, sharp objects, weapons, and firearms.
- Talk openly with your children about their feelings. Don’t be afraid to broach the subject for fear that mentioning suicide will “give them the idea.”
- Try to establish how serious the threat is by asking directly if they have considered suicide and, if so, when and how. If the threat seems imminent, take your teenager to the local emergency room or doctor’s office. Consider calling emergency services in urgent cases.
If your teenager refuses help, persist nonetheless. Consider involuntary hospitalization if necessary. The most important thing that you can do is to listen.
American Association of Suicidology. (n.d.). Youth suicide fact sheet. Retrieved September 4, 2010, from http://www.suicidology.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=232