It is a devastating thing to hear about a teenager completing suicide, even more so for the family and friends involved. This type of tragedy can have an impact on an entire community.
Teens who hear about or know someone close to their age who has completed suicide may struggle processing these types of painful events. Having a parent who can respond to the child with information and support can make a big difference for the teen.
Suicide among teens is a growing concern. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death for teens in Idaho. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide reports 17.7 percent of high school students nationally admit to thinking about suicide and 9 percent report attempting suicide.
Parents, talking to your teens about suicide is a step in the right direction. Talking about suicide or asking about suicidal thoughts does not plant thoughts of suicide or increase their risk of suicide, but rather opens an opportunity to communicate about an important topic.
If a parent is checking in with their teen about suicide, then that teen may well benefit from having information to use to get the help they need.
When a teen hears about a suicide, it is important that the adult involved with that child can allow the child to be open about their feelings and express how they feel without any negative recourse from the parents.
Teens may not necessarily be “used to” or have life experience with traumatic events such a suicide. It is also important not to make any assumptions about how the child will respond or make any assumptions that the child will or will not be okay with the event. It is also important not to place any time frame on when a child should or will be able to move on from the event.
Teens who complete suicide may have been struggling with an underlying mood disorder such as depression and or feel a sense of disconnect with others and may have been experiencing some sort of abuse or trauma.
Teenagers are at a point of development in which their emotions are powerful for them and rational thinking does not always take the lead when making decisions. This is one reason it is important for parents to be available and willing to talk to children in an open and compassionate manner.
If a child states they have been thinking about or want to complete suicide, it is important to avoid negative statements. Statements like “Quit being so dramatic” or “You’re not going to kill yourself” or “Quit trying to get attention” invalidate the child’s emotions or statements.
It is important and helpful for a child to have a parent whose communication reflect a desire to listen to the child and provide support. Statements like “How can I help,” “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way” and “We can get through this together” can provide a door for open communication and is supportive.
Raising awareness is a great way to educate both parents and teens about the risk of suicide and the signs to look for to help prevent another child from completing suicide.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline website provides the following signs that a person may be at risk for suicide.
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or isolating themselves
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Extreme mood swings
If you or someone you know are experiencing any of these warning signs please seek help and contact the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach out to a local mental help provider. Lets help teens live their lives, not end them.
Daniel Park with Health West Inc. is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), native to Idaho, and has worked in mental health for over 10 years. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Boise State University.