Teen suicide: What parents need to know
The current pandemic has caused many of us to feel lonely and isolated, but it can be especially difficult for teens. Because the risk for suicide increases with a crisis like COVID-19, it’s important to be aware of your teen’s mental health. Therapist Amanda Storm shared risk factors, warnings signs, prevention strategies and actions to help you support your teen.
What factors put teens at a higher risk for suicide?
- History of mental health or substance abuse
- Stressful life events – bullying, a recent loss, a divorce, pandemic, etc.
- Family history of mental illness
- Family history of suicide
- Abuse in any form – physical, sexual, emotional or witness to domestic violence
- Past suicide attempts or self-harm behaviors
- Access to a gun
- Exposure to suicidal behaviors in others including peers, community members, family members, etc.
- Sleeplessness or insomnia
- Irritability or agitation
What warning signs should you look for in your teen?
- Decreased interest in appearance
- Increased isolation
- Giving away treasured possessions and things important to them
- Lessened interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Substance abuse
- Obsession with death and dying
- Declining grades and less interest in academic achievements
- Verbalizing the desire to die or alluding to how things will be easier without them
- Seems numb and is less impacted by positive praise or other rewards that motivated them in the past
“With decreased access to services and increased isolation at a time in an adolescent’s life when peer interaction is such a primary factor in their mental health, there is more pressure on parents,” said Storm. Caregivers need to be aware of what to watch for and how to intervene should they need to seek out support for their teens.
How can you prevent teen suicide?
- Keep weapons, medication and other potential weapons locked up and not easily accessible to your teen. This includes guns, knives, ropes, etc.
- Make sure you get help for mental health and substance abuse problems when you see the early signs. This will give your teen added support and provide them with another person to check in on them.
- Stay connected to your teen. Listen without judgment and attempt to provide a place they can talk openly without criticism or problem solving.
- Stay connected with other parents. Make sure to develop relationships with the parents of your teen’s closest friends. Talk often and openly without judgement or criticism. The goal is to keep them all safe.
- Encourage your teen to speak up if they are worried about their friend’s mental health.
- Stay informed of resources that are available in your community like support groups, suicide hotlines, crisis response teams and other resources you can use. Be sure to inform other parents about available resources as well.
What should you do if you are worried about your teen’s mental health?
- Provide a safe and reassuring place for them to talk openly and express their feelings.
- Connect your child with a mental health provider.
- Check in with other trusted adults that may be close to your teen to ask about any changes in behavior or other signs of distress.
- Ask them questions directly – Are you having unsafe thoughts? Are you feeling hopeless? Are you afraid that things will not get better? Talking about suicide is not a risk factor or cause of suicide.Do not be afraid to be honest about your concerns. Most teens will speak honestly about these thoughts and want to get help.
- If you feel your child is at risk for suicide, please take them to the closest emergency room for an immediate assessment.
“We all have a responsibility to work together to identify teens at risk for suicide. Increasing education and knowledge regarding teen suicide is our first step toward connecting teens to the services they need and preventing suicide,” said Storm.
Find a doctor
The best time to schedule a new patient visit is while you’re well. Find a provider who’s right for you by browsing their profiles.Let Us Help