This week of September 8-14th is National Suicide Prevention week so we wanted to take a moment to bring up this important topic again. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for young people ages 15-24 and it is very preventable! During this week, let’s remember those whose lives ended too soon and watch for warning signs of depression and suicidal thinking amongst friends and loved ones.
Why are teens at risk for suicide? Well, there are many reasons but here are some that stand out:
- Teens are going through many emotional changes. As they grow and develop, teens are starting to have their own personal identity. At the same time, there is intense pressure to conform with peers. Sometimes these two conflict and the situation can feel hopeless. It can feel like there is no way out.
- Teens are impulsive. Their brains are not fully finished developing. The pre-frontal cortex is the portion of the brain that controls impulse and helps us think through consequences. In teens it isn’t mature yet. For this reason, teens often act on the impulse of what will fix the problem right now instead of thinking about future consequences.
- Warning signs may be missed. Talking about death, giving away cherished possessions, and expressing thoughts of feeling hopeless may be mentioned in passing or during times when loved ones aren’t giving their full attention. We may miss hearing these warning signs.
So what can a parent do to help prevent suicide?
- Listen. If you hear your teen mention in passing ‘I wish I were dead.’ Don’t ignore it, or think they were just saying that to get a reaction. Consider any statement about suicide as a warning sign. Our response as adults can be as simple as asking more about why they made the statement. Seek help from a medical provider or behavioral health professional if your teen tells you they are thinking of ending their life.
- Don’t let ‘I’m fine’ be the end of the discussion. Most teens will say they’re fine because they don’t want to be a burden on the people they love. Ask a bit more about how they are feeling. Ask if they have things in their life that are stressful right now and what do they do when they feel sad or stressed to help feel better. If they don’t have any helpful strategies, that is concerning.
- Make sure your teen has supportive adults. Even if it’s not a parent, make sure your teen has at least one supportive adult who they trust in their life. This can be a teacher, therapist, minister, or auntie. It should be someone they can contact whenever they need to.
- Keep lethal things out of the home. Teens who attempt suicide with a firearm are more likely to complete suicide than those who take a bottle of pills. If your teen talks of suicide, consider if they should be allowed to drive or have access to prescription medications.
One of the greatest risk factors for suicide is a previous suicide attempt. If your teen has tried to end their life before or if they tell you they have a plan to commit suicide seek professional help immediately. This includes going to the local emergency department or calling 911. Each hospital has behavioral health specialists on staff who can assess your teen’s safety and help with treatment options.
In Washington State: teenlink is a hotline that is open between 6pm – 10pm 7 days a week
866- TEENLINK (1-866-833-6546)