If your teen has attempted suicide, you likely feel frozen with fear and full of questions. How will you keep him or her safe? Are they at an increased risk of dying by suicide in the near or distant future? What has led to this situation? As a parent, you are right to be concerned; 80 percent of those who end up dying by suicide have attempted suicide previously. The good news is that with intensive treatment and good family support, the vast majority of teens who have attempted suicide will not go on to die by suicide later. Read on to find out what you can do after a teen suicide attempt.
Stay In Close Contact With the Hospital
If your teenager has attempted suicide, chances are excellent that they will be held in the hospital for some period of time. Depending on how injured or ill they are, they might start off in the intensive care unit or another medical floor. Many individuals will be sufficiently physically recovered within a couple of days, but others will need surgery or other treatment and they might be there longer.
Once they are no longer in danger of dying from the attempt, they will usually be transferred to the psychiatric unit, where they will stay for several days, up to a week. During this time, assessments will be done and if mental health issues are found, medications will often be prescribed. You’ll receive a care plan that will recommend some type of aftercare, whether it’s inpatient treatment, intensive counseling, or reporting back to a therapist your teen has already been seeing. Make sure you understand the plan, including any medications your teenager needs to take and what the side effects are.
Make Your Home Safe
In the weeks and months following a teen suicide attempt, you will need to keep any potential weapons or medications that could be used to overdose out of the reach of your teen. This means removing from your home or, at the very least, locking them up. Keep in mind that a depressed teenager could fashion a noose out of clothing; it might be necessary to limit your teenager’s privacy drastically for the time being. Lock up prescriptions, ropes, knives, and other potentially dangerous items.
One of the biggest factors in whether a teen will commit suicide is having access to firearms. If you keep guns in your home, your teen is not safe unless there is no way he or she can get to them and the ammunition. This is true even if your teen was an avid hunter or if they’ve taken gun safety courses. During this period of recovery, assume that they are not making safe, responsible choices and keep the guns out of his or her reach accordingly.
Watch for Worsening or New Symptoms of Depression
Many who are victim of a teen suicide attempt are suffering from depression or other mental health issues. Be on the lookout for any symptoms that are new or worsening. Talk to your teen’s mental health care providers if you notice any signs that your teen might be contemplating another teen suicide attempt. These signs can include:
- Talking about wishing they were dead or saying that things would better if they didn’t exist
- Feeling hopeless or sad for two weeks or for any length of time if they are not getting up and managing their daily tasks
- Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
- Isolating themselves in their bedrooms away from family and friends
- Not wanting to go out and enjoy the activities they usually enjoy
- Apathy, lack of interest in what’s going on around them
- Giving away their belongings, tying up loose ends
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Eating too much or not enough
- Uncharacteristic anger
If you notice these symptoms, particularly after a teen suicide attempt, contact your teen’s doctor or mental health specialist right away.
Go to Counseling
Your teen will need therapy. It might be given on an inpatient basis for a while, then it will continue on an outpatient basis. If your teen doesn’t go to stay at a treatment center, they will just go to outpatient counseling. Do what you can to make sure he or she goes to these appointments. Drive them or arrange for rides. Pay the copay in advance if you think they’ll use having no money as an excuse not to go.
Family counseling might be recommended. This can help you and your other family members support your teenager as he or she goes through the recovery process. It can be painful; your teen might blame you for the way he or she is feeling. Don’t give up on the counseling sessions, however. You will be able to benefit from more open communication, and family therapy is a good way to achieve that.
In addition, consider seeking individual counseling for yourself. It’s hard to be the parent of a teen who has tried to commit suicide, and talking to a therapist about your many feelings can help you parent more effectively. A support group might also be an option.
Have an Emergency Plan
It’s possible that your teen will have suicidal thoughts again. He or she might even attempt suicide again. Have a plan in place for your teen and whoever is spending time with them to follow. You can call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, head to the nearest emergency room, or call a therapist or counselor. Your teen should know which feelings and thoughts warrant an immediate call to a parent, trusted adult, or an emergency hotline or 911. Write down the plan so that it can be accessed and followed even if emotions and tensions are running high in the moment.
With good treatment, your teen can recover from a teen suicide attempt and go on to enjoy the rest of his or her life. Keep in close contact with his or her mental health professionals and let your teen know that you love and support them as they go through this difficult time. As the months and years pass and you see improvement, your teen will be able to grow into a productive and fulfilled adult.