Teen Suicide Prevention

How to Talk to Your Teen About Suicide

The reality of teen suicide is sobering: According to The Jason Foundation, more than 5,000 teens in middle and high school attempt suicide every day. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s easy to feel helpless in the face of such an enormous problem.

If you think your teen might be considering harming herself, don’t wait to take action. Reach out to a crisis helpline for urgent support. If you’re not sure where to turn, call one of these organizations for informed, compassionate help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255

  • Trevor Lifeline (LGBTQ), 1-866-488-7386

  • IMALIVE, 1-800-784-2433

If your child is in immediate danger, call 911. It’s scary, but the most important thing is keeping your teen safe while you find resources for support.

Facts About Teen Suicide

Suicide is a serious issue facing teens today. Here’s what you need to know:

  • More than 1,500 teens die by suicide every year in the U.S.

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens, second only to accidents.

  • 19 percent of high schoolers have seriously considered suicide.

  • More than 30 percent of LGBTQ teens attempt suicide each year.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Teen mental health is complex and there are many things that contribute to suicidal thoughts in teens. Here are a few risk factors to be aware of:

  • Knowing someone who has committed or attempted suicide.

  • Exposure to depictions of suicide in the media.

  • Family or personal history of suicide and/or mental illness.

  • Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, or transgender, especially in an unsupportive environment.

  • Experiencing bullying at school or home.

  • History of sexual or physical abuse.

  • Social isolation from friends, family, and/or peers.

If you’re worried about your teen, keep an eye out for these signs she may be experiencing thoughts of suicide:

  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death, dying, or suicide.

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, school, and activities previously enjoyed.

  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits.

  • Risk-taking behavior.

  • Drug and/or alcohol use.

  • Other symptoms of depression, like sadness, hopelessness, irritability, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.

While these risk factors and warning signs are a helpful tool for caring parents, it’s important to remember that no teen is the same. The best way to know that something is wrong is to be involved in your child’s life and keep the conversation open. Be aware that

Teen Suicide Prevention

“Talk to your teen” is a simple enough directive, but it’s much harder to actually do. Conversations about mental health and suicide are difficult to broach, and teens aren’t always ready to open up.

First off, start the conversation before suicide ever enters the picture. Talk to your teen about what’s happening in her life; find out if she’s happy at school, how she likes her friends, and how she feels about herself. If you notice your child is having a bad day, ask her about it rather than writing it off as teenage mood swings. If your teen is having bad days more often than not, consider whether she might be experiencing depression or another mood disorder.

Depression is the greatest risk factor for teen suicide, but depressed teens aren’t always taken seriously. If your teen is showing symptoms of depression, take care not to invalidate her emotions or experiences. It’s OK to say that things will get better, but don’t suggest she has nothing to be sad about or that her problems aren’t serious enough to warrant depression. The last thing you want is to discourage your teen from talking to you.

If suicide is a concern, ask your teen directly if she has been thinking of hurting herself. The answer may be difficult to hear, but asking can be the difference between getting help and a tragic loss. If you suspect your teen may be abusing drugs or alcohol, keep in mind they are at an even higher risk of suicide.

Finally, locate a mental health professional so your child can talk about her feelings without fear of judgment. And if you need support during your teen’s recovery, seek therapy for yourself too. Dealing with a child’s mental illness is difficult, and having your own support system is key to being the best parent you can be.

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