How Family Acceptance Can Keep Teens Alive

In 2014, a study found that family rejection plays a significant role in whether a teen decides to commit suicide. The study followed adolescents after their discharge from a psychiatric unit for a suicide attempt. Many of the teens who participated in the study reported that they felt “invalidation” at the time of discharge.


Feeling invalidated by one’s family challenges a person’s sense of self and the importance of their emotions. Lead researcher Shirley Yen, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said, “This could mean anything from not accepting an aspect of their child’s identity or preferences, such as sexuality, to telling their child they should not feel the way they do, such as feeling depressed or anxious.”


Certainly, when it comes to mental illness and sexual orientation, the American public has a narrow window for what they accept. People tend to judge things they do not understand. For instance, in a society that is predominantly heterosexual, anyone of a different sexual orientation are likely going to be judged, harassed, and even ridiculed. Although other forms of sexual orientation are growing in acceptance, there are many parents who continue to find it difficult to accept their children for who they are.


Not understanding and non-acceptance also tends to come with fear and a need to push away what’s intimidating. And that’s one reason why society has reacted to those who identify with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) – out of fear, misunderstanding, and an inability to accept. As a result, it’s becoming more and more common that LGBT teens are turning to suicide.


However, it’s not only sexual orientation, it’s mental illness, personality, political views, and even social skills that can create divides among teens. Teens who are marginalized, for whatever reason, might be bullied, harassed, teased, or in extreme situations, killed. And as a result, those teens might engage in drug use, risky behavior, and suicide attempts.


The study mentioned above followed 99 teens for six months after they had been discharged. The participants in the study were asked weekly whether they felt accepted by their family and peers. They were also asked if they were able to express their true thoughts and feelings without being dismissed, punished, ignored or mocked.


Interestingly, girls were more likely to perceive rejection from their families at the start of the study. However, if a male adolescent perceived family rejection, he was more at risk of suicide attempts, according to the study. The final results of the study revealed that male adolescents were vulnerable to suicide due to feelings of invalidation from their families. They were almost four times more likely to attempt suicide than adolescent males who didn’t feel rejected. Furthermore, the longer adolescent males felt rejected, the more likely they were to attempt suicide. The study found that the adolescent males who felt rejected most often during the follow-up were eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who felt accepted by their families.


Both boys and girls who felt rejected by their peers at the start of the study were more likely to self-harm, such as cutting, than those who felt peer acceptance.


It’s clear that having a sense of acceptance by family is an essential component to a teen’s psychological health. Teens who are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm can get help by calling a national suicide hotline. There are two to choose from: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).