Teens and Suicide – What You Need to Know

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In a recent post, I discussed adolescent depression and the many tragic issues associated with it. Certainly not the least of these is suicide, which is listed as the third-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds. The topic recently garnered a significant amount of attention among teens, parents, the media and the psychiatric community with the release of the Netflix Original Series, 13 Reasons Why, a show that highlighted the relationships and life events that led to a young girl’s suicide.

When it comes to issues like suicide, I truly believe that knowledge is power and that you can never be too careful. Here’s a look at what you need to know:

Ignorance is not bliss. Studies show that clear warning signs precede the vast majority of teen suicide attempts. As a parent, it’s important to know the signs and to know your child. While a warning sign might not always indicate a suicide attempt, you should be able to recognize what is and isn’t normal for your teen—and then respond in a manner that shows genuine care and concern. Remember that many warning signs are actually a cry for help, so ignoring them could cause further damage.

Know the signs. While some signs might seem blatantly obvious, such as previous suicide attempts or drug and alcohol abuse, others are more difficult to detect. Keep in mind that family history, depression and anxiety can all play a role as well. Here’s a broad overview of what to look for:

  1. Changes in behavior, such as trouble at school; poor academic performance; issues with friendships, classmates or dating relationships; lack of interest in activities your child once enjoyed, sleep problems; dietary changes or harmful behavior such as cutting
  1. Changes in personality, such as extreme sadness, loneliness, guilt, worthlessness, talk of death, agitation, irritability, anxiety and despair

Know how to help. If you suspect that your teen may be at risk, step in right away. Here’s how:

  1. Seek professional help. Some situations call for a mental health professional that is specifically qualified in this area. If your son or daughter is in college, encourage him or her to contact the on-campus counseling center. If you’re not sure where to turn for help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
  1. Talk to your child and be open and honest about your concerns. The best way to minimize the stigma of depression and suicide is to discuss it. Ask questions, express your love and encouragement, and make sure your child knows you won’t give up on him or her.
  1. Keep tabs. Talk to your child’s teachers and coaches, communicate with other parents, know who your child is hanging out with, monitor their whereabouts, and check their social media activity and communications.
  1. Get your head out of the sand. It’s your job to protect your child. One way you can do this is by eliminating their access to alcohol, prescription pills, illegal drugs, knives and guns.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.