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When Suicide Prevention Involves Your Own Teen

September 17, 2020

September is Suicide Prevention Month.

Suicide is the #2 cause of death among teens—second only to accidents. There’s a reason why our car insurance skyrockets when they start to drive —teens are more likely to take risks that adults wouldn’t take—or maybe more accurately, they don’t yet have the ability figure out how risky a situation is or what the consequences could really be.

Suicidal Ideation Doesn’t Mean Wanting to Die

Teenagers don’t think like adults. Their frontal lobes aren’t fully developed until their mid-twenties. The frontal lobe plays a key role in emotional control, higher order thinking, empathy, and long-term context.

When your child is experiencing:

  • High stress levels
  • Academic pressure
  • Bullying
  • Addiction
  • Conflict with parents or friends
  • Relationship breakups or other losses

… they’re more “in the moment” than someone with a few more years under their belt. Some teens and young adults can’t see past the pain they’re experiencing and into the future. They struggle to keep things in perspective:

“I don’t matter. Nobody cares.”
“This is never going to end.”
“I don’t deserve good things.”
“If my parents or friends knew, they’d hate me.”

Teens put themselves right in the middle of situations and often shoulder the blame, whether it’s reasonable or not, and it often isn’t. Depression or grief in teens often looks like anger or irritability—not sadness. If it seems like they’re blaming you for everything, they’re blaming themselves even more.

Suicide Feels Like an Answer to Their Problems

Depression, anxiety, and extreme stress can make it harder for them to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With the pandemic, we’ve all been struggling with stress and our mental states—especially now that social distancing and remote schooling are no longer just short-term answers.

The methods that we’ve chosen to counter the coronavirus do help keep us physically safer—but the social isolation, job loss, and increased stress have triggered a mental health pandemic of its own.

Should I Be Concerned About My Own Teen?

Unfortunately, the usual signs for depression or suicide risk look a lot like “normal” teen behavior—at least stereotypical behavior:

  • Teens sleep more.
  • Teens tend to be argumentative and have more fights with their parents.
  • Teens have dramatic mood swings.

So, isn’t a moody teen that “mouths off” and sleeps all the time simply a “normal teen?”

Maybe. The thing to look for is change:

  • Has there been a dramatic change in their behavior?
  • Did they used to go out with friends and now hide in their room?
  • Has there been a change in their social interaction? In mood swings or sleep patterns?
  • Have they lost interest in things they normally care about?
  • Are they more argumentative or closed off?

These are all signs that your teen needs help.

Risk Factors that Make Your Teen More Vulnerable to Suicidal Ideation

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention lists the following risk factors that make your teen more vulnerable to a suicide attempt:

  1. Dealing with a mental disorder.
  2. A physical disability or illness, including chronic illness and pain, or traumatic brain injury.
  3. Access to drugs, firearms, or other weapons.
  4. Prolonged stress, including bullying, isolation, and relationship issues with friends or romantic interests.
  5. Stressful life situations like their parents’ divorce, financial crisis, or profound loss.
  6. Another person’s suicide or graphic accounts of suicide.
  7. A family history of suicide or mental illness.
  8. A previous history of suicide attempts.
  9. A history of childhood neglect or abuse.

While this study doesn’t include it, we’re also finding that children who are struggling with gender identity issues (also known as “gender dysphoria”)  or who are transgender are at higher risk for attempting suicide and can benefit from additional support as they work through those issues.

Is Your Child Telling You that They are Considering Suicide?

AFSP also lists several signs that your teen is seriously considering suicide:

  • They talk of killing themselves or say they have no reason to live.
  • They say they feel hopeless or trapped, believe no one cares, or feel like they’re a burden.
  • They’re suffering under severe physical pain.
  • They isolate themselves from family and friends and withdraw from activities.
  • They’re sleeping too much or too little and have increased feelings of fatigue.
  • They’re visiting people, saying goodbye, or giving away treasured belongings.
  • They’ve increased their use of alcohol or drugs.
  • They have more angry outbursts or physical aggression.
  • They’re more depressed, anxious, or irritable.
  • They report feelings of humiliation or shame.
  • They have sudden improvement and relief of symptoms.

How Do You Protect Your Child from the Risk of Suicide?

If you believe your teen or young adult is in immediate risk of harming themselves, immediately call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. They’ll help you handle the emergency.

Teens Can’t See That They Need Help, So They Need Their Parents to Act

According to a study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, our teens aren’t going to ask us for help. Over 70% of people thinking about committing suicide don’t connect those thoughts with needing treatment. Even as they’re contemplating ending their lives, depression and other factors keep young adults from seeing that they need help from parents and professionals.

Sometimes it’s hard for parents to know when to seek professional help. It’s also scary when everything is going sideways to invite strangers into the situation who might point fingers at them when they’re simply baffled by why their sweet kid seems so angry or lost.

Potomac Programs Is Here for You

At Potomac Programs, we’re different. Our therapists know how to relate to teens and young adults (from 9 to 31 years old, depending on the program). We don’t just sit around and talk; we engage teens on several different levels using experiential therapies that are proven to help them work around that frontal cortex issue and start figuring things out.

We also know that whatever pain your teen is in, the whole family is in pain, too. We take a Family Systems approach, making sure we’re meeting your needs and helping the entire family to heal and rebuild communication.

We’re here to help when suicide prevention becomes your family’s focus.

If you even suspect that your teen is at risk for suicide, something’s not right. Don’t ignore that inner voice.

Contact us now and we’ll work with you to figure out what your teen needs so things can get better.

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