We had a post on teen suicide last summer, but a recent event prompted me to talk about this painful subject again. This week, the body of a teen girl was found near an elementary school and it’s thought that her death is related to suicide. The month of May is actually child mental health awareness month, so we will have more posts to come on mental health in teens, but for those affected by this recent tragedy, I wanted to offer tips for parents on signs that their teen may be suffering from depression.
Among teens and young adults aged 15-24 in the US, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death (accidents are the leading cause of death, followed by homicide). A recent study of youth in grades 9-12 in the US found that 15% of students reported seriously considering suicide and 7% reported trying to take their own life within the year before the survey. Nearly 150,000 youth receive treatment at emergency departments for suicide attempts each year.
Risk factors include:
- history of a previous suicide attempt
- family history of suicide
- depression/mental illness
- exposure to others who have exhibited suicidal behaviors
- alcohol or drug abuse
- easy access things like firearms, medications, or other means of suicide
Warning signs include:
- Talking about suicide, expressing thoughts of suicide, or writing about death
- Expressing thoughts of hopelessness
- Giving away favorite possessions
- Leaving a ‘goodbye’ note/email/text/social media post
If your teen tells you they’ve been thinking about suicide, has any of the risk factors and warning signs, or you are worried about their safety, contact your teen’s medical provider right away or take them to the local emergency department where they can be evaluated for safety by a trained mental health professional (either a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist).
You can reduce the risk of suicide by removing firearms from the home, removing unused or expired medications, and keeping small amounts of needed medications at home. Build a support system for you team including a therapist or mental health professional, friends, and family. If they attempt suicide, call 911.
Teens who have classmates or friends who commit suicide can be greatly affected. Any time there is a suicide in the community, teens should be offered support through counselors and trusted adults. There have been cases where one teen suicide prompted other teens to attempt to end their lives, so if your teen exhibits any of the warning signs above, take it seriously and seek medical/mental health help right away.
Here are some resources for families and teens:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)