Teen Suicide Prevention: When Should You Be Concerned?

The rate of suicide in teenagers is alarmingly high, but with the societal taboo on suicide, you may be unclear which behaviors are symptoms of suicide and which are not. Regardless, if you are worried for your child's safety as a result of their behavior, it is likely they need counseling whether or not they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. However, knowing the signs and symptoms are a necessary way to determine the severity of your child's situation. Here are a few alarming behaviors and whether or not your child is at risk.

teen with arms crossed head down contemplating

Self-Harm, Cutting or Otherwise

Self-harm is an act many teenagers commit. Best known is cutting, but self-harm can take many forms including, self-starvation, burning, substance abuse, avoidance of sleep, poor eating habits, and hitting inanimate objects. Of course, all of these behaviors are worrisome and likely will require counseling. Yet contrary to popular belief, self-harmers are usually not suicidal.

Self-harm is a coping method employed by many teens to stay alive. Many report needing to "feel alive" and utilizing self-harm to remind themselves that they exist and have purpose. Others say they self-harm to numb emotional pain; pain that would otherwise cause them to feel suicidal. Though cutting in particular often seems like a suicide attempt, it is actually an attempt to avoid suicide.

If your child is self-harming, remain calm and understanding. If they are in such emotional turmoil that they feel the need to injure themselves, the last thing they need is the guilt of making you upset. From there, seek professional help. If professional help is out of your reach, you may want to offer some ways to wean your child off of self-harm such as snapping a rubber band on their wrists, holding an ice cube, drawing red lines where they might normally cut, and other such replacements.

Discussion of Dying or Loss of the Desire to Live

Many people incorrectly believe that if a person talks about wanting to die, they are simply seeking attention. However in actuality, most suicidal people will mention their desire to end their life in a final attempt to get help. Never take discussion of death lightly.

If your child mentions wanting to die or how they might prefer to die, take it seriously. Sit them down, have an open, calm discussion about suicide and their mental state. Listen and ask questions but under no circumstances are you to make the discussion about how their suffering affects you. Turning things around onto yourself will make the teen feel guilty, ashamed, and unheard.

Isolation from Friends and Family

Isolation from family is not necessarily a cause for concern. If your child does not feel secure in your home, they are less likely to want to spend time there. For example, if your family is intolerant of the LGBTQA community and your teen is concealing the fact that they are gay, it is only natural that they would want to spend time with friends they can be themselves around.

However withdrawing from all loved ones is a definite sign of depression and suicide. Even if the isolation is not by choice, lack of socialization can be the cause of depression and suicidal thoughts. Seek professional help and consider getting your teen involved with social groups such as hobby clubs, sports, or school activities.

Depression and suicide are all too common in teens. With the current statistics, preventing suicide can seem like a monumental task. In reality, suicide prevention is more often a matter of talking openly with your teen, listening calmly, and creating an accepting, loving atmosphere in the home.

It is important to remember that even the most loving and accepting family can produce a teen with depression. This is where listening comes into play. If your child tells you that they are depressed, it is your job to listen and get them the help they need. Something as simple as that can prevent that depression from worsening and resulting in suicidal thoughts.

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