One topic is still off the radar of many adults, whether they are parents, teachers, or coaches. That topic is teenage suicide.
Most media outlets don’t and won’t report on specific suicides. If there is a teenage drunk driving accident resulting in death, that will make the news in most communities. Not so for suicides.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death for the 15-to-24 age group in 2013 and the third leading cause of death for 10-to-14-year-olds. While those numbers might be startling, especially on the younger end, they are true. Though it is rare, it is not unheard of for elementary-age children to talk about or attempt to harm or kill themselves.
If there is something positive to cling to in all this, it is that learning how to prevent suicides is a fairly straightforward endeavor.
[lz_infobox]This weekly series offers smart, practical advice on how to talk to your kids about thorny topics.[/lz_infobox]
Know the warning signs, including a sudden increase in sadness, isolation, hopelessness and giving away possessions. Are grades dropping and behaviors changing? Does the person make comments about how people would be “better off without me”? Does the person say “life is just too hard”? A sudden, dramatic improvement in mood can also be an indication that someone is in danger — they may have decided that suicide is the answer to long-standing problems.
Do toss out a common concern that goes like this: “If I ask someone if they’re having thoughts of suicide, it will make it seem like more of an option for them and increase their chance of harming themselves.” This is a huge myth with no data to support it. Just the opposite is true, in fact.
Taking the frightening step of asking a troubled teen if he or she is having suicidal thoughts will make your child feel as if someone really cares. This may be the first step to returning hope to someone who believes life is hopeless.
What if your teenager does admit suicidal thoughts? Keep talking. Share that you want to help him and keep him safe. You are not the mental health provider, so no one is expecting you to solve the situation immediately right then and there, but the more you learn about your child’s thoughts, the better you can distinguish between an emergency and a situation of safety for the short term.
If you find yourself with worries or with actual facts that someone indeed is considering suicide, call a suicide prevention hotline. Trained professionals can help plan the next steps. Even if the teen doesn’t want to talk to anyone, call the crisis line. You’ll be able to share what you know about the situation and get expert guidance on what to do. The hotline staff might talk with you about safety factors such as: Are there firearms available to the teen? Are there pills within reach that could be used for an overdose? Crisis lines can also connect you to local resources or emergency services if the situation warrants.
If we’re being honest, many people at one time or another have had at least a fleeting thought of “Why am I here?” and “Is life worth living?” When those thoughts become consistent or the individual starts planning the specifics and seems intent on making it happen — the risk is far greater.
It can be difficult to tease out just how at risk a person is; that’s why it is important to take seriously any indication that someone is considering suicide. Don’t simply pass off threats of suicide with thoughts like, “That’s a teenager for you — all hormones and melodrama.” Never assume such threats are part of attention-seeking behavior that is best ignored.
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In both young people and adults, suicide occurs far more often than we realize. Rates will decrease when more people are aware of the signs that someone is struggling and know what steps to take to get that person help.
Never hesitate to call, or encourage someone else to call, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.