The statistics are alarming: Suicide is now a leading cause of death among young people. There are an average of 121 suicides each day in America, and that is not counting all of the attempts, which outnumber completed suicides at a ratio of 25 to one. As a parent, the thought of your child or one of his or her friends attempting or completing suicide is terrifying. The good news is that in most cases, youth suicide is preventable.
Read on to learn how parents and other adults in the community can help.
Know the Risk Factors and Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
One of the most important ways you can help prevent youth suicide is to be aware of both the risk factors and the signs that someone is considering or planning suicide.
While anyone could commit suicide, the simple fact is that the overwhelming majority of those who attempt it shows signs or have risk factors. Here are some of the risk factors to be aware of:
- Depression and other mental illnesses
- Being the victim of violence, bullying, abuse or assault
- Loss of a loved one, particularly a parent, sibling, or close friend
- Using drugs or abusing alcohol
- Not having a supportive parent or family
- Having access to a gun
Before committing suicide, most teens will show behaviors as a cry for help. These behaviors might include:
- Talking about wanting to die or of being a burden to others
- Reckless behavior such as driving too fast or taking risks that could lead to death
- Socially isolating themselves
- Giving up sports, friends, jobs, and other activities
- Giving away their belongings
- Tying up loose ends by trying to mend relations with those they’ve argued or fought with
- Becoming obsessed with death
- Failing classes in school and not doing homework anymore
Talk to Your Teen: Don’t Let Things Go Unaddressed
If you notice any of these behaviors or you see that your teen is exhibiting symptoms of depression (such as sadness that lasts more than a few days or not being able to get out of bed in the morning), don’t ignore the situation. Sometimes, parents are afraid that talking about youth suicide might tempt their child to try it. In fact, the opposite is true: Talking about suicide can actually prevent an unnecessary and early death. Ask your teen how they are feeling and find out whether they’ve considered suicide.
Also, try to foster an open relationship with your child every day, not just on days where they seem sad. Make time to spend time together one-on-one each week. It can be a standing date, or you can simply invite them out with you as you run errands or to grab a cup of coffee.
Take Youth Suicide Threats Very Seriously
In most cases, suicide threats are a cry for help and not an indication that the person actually wants to die. In some cases, however, they are the last effort to get proper attention and treatment before the person actually takes his or her life. It’s not worth betting your child’s life on the odds that a suicide threat is not “the real deal.” Also, for a teen to say that they wish they were dead or that they are considering suicide takes considerable emotional pain. That alone is a good reason to get to the bottom of what’s causing it to make your child feel better.
Encourage Your Teen to Create a Support System
Becoming socially isolated can cause a teenager to become depressed. Also, depression can lead to social isolation. You can encourage your teen to stop the cycle by helping your teen create a support system. A support system should include:
- His or her parents
- Other family members
- Other adults within the community
It’s good for teens to have different adults to talk to, so encourage them to forge relationships with aunts and uncles, the parents of their friends, a coach, or other responsible adults in his or her life.
If your teen has no friends, work with him or her on how they can change that. Are they involved in a sport or extracurricular activity? Volunteering in the community is another way to meet other teens and adults. So is getting a part-time job and attending community events geared toward teenagers. If your teen has social anxiety or some other issue that is making it difficult to meet friends, seek counseling.
Exercise With Your Teen
Exercise is a great way to prevent the depression that can lead to suicide. Exercise raises endorphins, which are the “feel good” hormones. And doing it with you gives them a chance to talk about anything that’s bothering them and to build a good relationship with you. Invite your teen to walk with you in the evenings or to go to the gym with you. They might also enjoy taking an aerobics class, going kayaking during the warmer months, going skiing in the winter, or just playing soccer in the backyard on the weekends. Look for fun ways to be active together and encourage your teen to join a sports team or to ask a friend to go jogging or swimming, too. The more active they are, the better.
Remove Access to Guns in the Home
It’s an uncomfortable topic, but the fact is that teens who have access to a gun are more likely to complete suicide than those who do not. If you have guns, be sure they are locked up separately from the ammunition. Some parents think that because their kids are teens, they no longer have to worry about these safeguards, but that’s not true. Accidental and suicide-related shootings are still a concern when your children are teenagers. Use the same precautions you did when the kids were younger.
Preventing youth suicide is possible in most cases. Be vigilant, make yourself aware of what’s going on in your teenager’s life, and be open to talking about various topics. By being available and getting help when necessary, you can improve your teen’s chances of getting through the adolescent years without succumbing to suicide.