Suicide in children and teens is a major public health concern and is among the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 (the 1st is unintentional injury). Risk factors include a family or personal history of suicide attempts, exposure to violence, impulsivity, bullying, major loss or rejection, and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Some of the signs of increased risk of suicide include changes in eating or sleeping habits; withdrawal from family, friends, and previously enjoyed activities; frequent physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.); decline in school and/or athletic performance; and a preoccupation with death and dying.
Many well-intentioned parents do not notice, or may even actively ignore, signs that their child may be struggling with their mental health because they do not know what resources to use or what steps to take to intervene on their child’s behalf. It’s crucial that parents respond to their children in calm, caring, and non-accusatory ways and avoid invalidating and inflammatory comments such as “don’t think that way” or “get over it.” While that type of tough love may work for you, it runs the risk of worsening your child’s emotional state and pushing them further away from the help they may desperately need.
While discussing feelings, particularly those related to sadness and suicidality, can be very uncomfortable and challenging, it’s essential that parents open the lines of communication with their children in order to appropriately intervene, if/when necessary. If concerned, you may benefit from consulting with your child or teen’s school counselor, pastor or other religious official, and/or consider scheduling an appointment for you and/or your child or teen to meet with a mental health practitioner, such as a clinical psychologist, marriage and family therapist, or licensed clinical social worker. If your child or teen is in crisis, do not take any chances; call 911 or take them to your local police station or hospital emergency room where they can administer an evaluation and do what’s required to help ensure their safety.
The following resources provide insight and support regarding effective strategies and other information related to child and teen suicide risk and intervention. Educate yourself about the warning signs, risk factors, and means of intervention and share these resources with family and friends. Do your best to let your loved ones know that support is always just a call or text away!
Suicide Prevention Lifeline @ (800) 273 – TALK (8255) available 24/7
Online chat @ https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
The Trevor Project (LGBTQ) @ (866) 488 – 7386 (call or text) available 24/7
Online chat @ https://www.thetrevorproject.org
Crisis Text Line @ 741741 available 24/7
Didi Hirsch TEEN LINE @ (310) 855 – 4673 available 6 pm – 10 pm nightly
Text TEEN to 839863
Online chat @ http://www.didihirsch.org/chat