A Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression and Suicide

suicide teen depression washington

The phone rings. You see that it is the school so you answer it wondering what trouble your teen is in. Are they sick? This would be the third time this month! It is the school counselor, and he informs you another student heard your daughter expressing thoughts about killing herself. You feel like you have just been punched in the stomach. Your heart begins racing at the thought of your daughter being in so much pain that she would rather be dead than live another day.

The statistics on teen suicide are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, an average of 8% of American teens will attempt suicide. This makes suicide the second leading cause of death for kids aged 10 to 24. In fact, it is believed that more teenagers die from suicide than from cancer, pneumonia, birth defects, AIDS, influenza and heart disease combined.

Studies have found that teens who have presented with a mood disorder or who abuse drugs are at the greatest risk of attempting suicide. While research suggests girls attempt suicide more often, boys more often die from it.

Unfortunately, there is still much stigma surrounding depression and suicide, and so often these kids keep their emotional pain to themselves.

What can parents of teenagers do to keep their children safe and healthy?

Speak with Your Kid

Many parents believe that trying to speak with their kids about their moods and feelings will only push them farther away. This is a dangerous misconception. In reality, teenagers need to know they are safe, loved and cared for. I have found in and outside of therapy, teens are more open when they are engaging in an activity while talking. It is less awkward and intimidating than simply talking across from each other. Activities could include playing cards, walking, cooking, crafting, etc.

You may want to begin your conversation by asking general questions about what’s going on in their life. You could also mention you read an article online about teen suicide. When the time feels right, you can ask if they have ever had thoughts of self-harm. If their answer alarms you, ask specifically if they are planning on or intending to harm themselves.

Validate Their Feelings

Once you’ve begun this sensitive dialogue with your teen, it’s important to actively listen and validate their feelings. Your kid must really believe you are a) hearing what they’re telling you and b) recognizing the importance of it. Try and listen without judgement. For example, if you teen tells you he is having a hard time dealing with a recent breakup, you could validate his feelings by saying something like, “It sounds like you really loved her. I imagine it would be really hard to see her at school everyday.” This will help your child relax and open up, thereby giving you an opportunity to learn even more about their inner emotional life. Avoid saying things like, “There are plenty of fish in the sea” or “You were only together for 2 weeks. You need to get over her and focus on school.” Statements like these are not meant to be hurtful, but they can be interpreted by the listener as “You are overreacting and your feelings aren’t important.”

Clarify the Situation

If your teen confides they are having thoughts of suicide, it’s incredibly important that you remain calm and ask questions that will help you clarify the situation. Take some deep breaths and try to stay present with your teen instead of panicking about the future. You will want to determine if they are mentioning suicide because they:

  • Want to tell you just how bad they are feeling.
  • Alert you to something they need but are not getting.
  • Need to vocalize their desire to stop feeling so many emotions.
  • Have actually planned how and when they will take their life.

Seek Professional Guidance

Any talk of suicide is a serious matter and requires professional guidance by a trained therapist. You may call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or take them to the emergency room to be assessed, especially if they tell you they have been creating a plan to attempt suicide. Have them put the suicide hotline number in their phone. Save it in your phone too. Some of their depression might stem from an overall lack of control they feel they have in their own life, so it’s important you let them have a voice in the direction of treatment. Ask if they want a male or female counselor. Offer to go with them to their appointments if they want you there. You may also find that you will want to speak with someone through this difficult time. There are few scarier words for a parent to hear than “Your child is considering suicide.”

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment options for a troubled teen, please be in touch. Do not wait. Do not assume he or she is just “attention seeking.” I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help your family. You may call my office at (309)204-9881 or contact me through my website.

For more support or information on suicide, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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