What Parents Need to Know About Preventing the Tragedy of Teen Suicide

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    September is National Suicide Prevention Month. 

    When a teen resorts to suicide and parents, family members, and friends are left to grieve the death of their teen, it is a tragedy. We don’t like to think about teens — still children, experiencing that level of anguish. As a parent, the thought of one’s own child turning to suicide is terrifying. 

    Yet suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-24 year-olds. 

    This is why it’s critical to know the facts and warning signs surrounding suicide — and what you can do to help if your teen is at risk.  

    Teen Suicide Facts You Should Know

    Below are a few statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:  

    • Suicide attempts aren’t rare. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. 
    • Suicide rates have been increasing by an average of 2% every year since 2006. 
    • Suicide rates among LGBTQIA+ youth are five times higher than those of heterosexual youth. LGBTQIA+ teens are three times more likely to have serious suicidal thoughts. 

    Depression isn’t the only reason for suicide, especially among teens

    According to the CDC, more than half of adolescents who resort to suicide don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition. If you suspect your teen may have a mental health issue, it’s critical that you get help from mental health professionals.  

    Risk Factors that Put Your Teen in Danger 

    Some of the warning signs of teen suicide are:  

    • Expressing they feel no one cares. 
    • A history of problems at home or school. 
    • Dealing with an acutely stressful event such as unwanted pregnancy, a sexual assault, bullying, trouble with the law, or feel like they can’t meet high expectations from parents. 
    • Engaging in substance abuse, such as using alcohol or drugs. 
    • Talking about ending their lives either in person or in their social media messaging. 
    • A family history of suicide. 
    • Dramatic changes in their sleeping or eating patterns. 
    • Giving away treasured possessions. 
    • Seeming calm after a period of deep depression (indicating they’ve come to a decision). 

    Suicide rates for teens skyrocketed in the first months of the pandemic shutdown 

    A recently published Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study compared emergency room data from the first year of the pandemic with the previous pre-pandemic year.  

    In the initial few months of the shutdown in 2020, fewer young people were brought in for suicide attempts than the year before. However, as the shutdown became more drawn out:  

    • During the summer of 2020, adolescent suicide attempts grew to 22.3% higher than summer of 2019. 
    • In the winter of 2020, teen suicide attempts were 39.1% higher than winter of 2019. 
    • Among teenage girls, the winter 2020 suicide rate was 50.6% higher than the winter of 2019. 

    When “two weeks to stop the spread” became months and months, teens were afraid, lonely, and grieving.  

    What was a temporary solution became a significant transition. The focus became keeping people physically safe over psychologically safe, but the two are deeply connected. 

    If My Teen is a Suicide Risk, How do I Help Them? 

    First of all, if your teen is in immediate risk of danger, contact 911 or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

    Don’t wait for your doctor, therapist, or other providers to call you back. Don’t look into long-term mental health treatment. Your teen needs immediate help, and the hotline can connect you with local mental health resources. 

    Bethe1to.com lists five steps you can follow to help your teen if they’re having suicidal thoughts:  

    1. Ask your teen about their suicidal thoughts 

    Specific questions you can ask, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry are: 

    • Are you feeling sad or depressed? 
    • Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself? 
    • Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself? 

    Talking about suicide can decrease the risk of it happening. By asking, you’re showing that you’re there and you’re listening. Your teen is not alone, and this shows that you can’t talk about it with them and help them. 

    2. Be there with them in their crisis 

    If your teen is in immediate risk, make sure they’re not alone. Be there with them and don’t leave. If you’re not in the same room, keep them on the phone. Find someone who can be with them while you get help for them.  

    3. Keep them safe 

    Ask these important questions: 

    1. Have they made a suicide attempt before talking with you?  
    1. Do they know how they would kill themselves? 
    1. How soon do they plan on doing it? 
    1. What access do they have to their method of choice? 

    The more details they have in place, the greater the risk of follow-through. If they have immediate access to a firearm, call 911 or contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988.

    Taking away their access to their method of choice, such as pills, razors, or a weapon, lessens the risk.  

    You Can Find Help When Your Family Is in Crisis 

    Getting your teen stabilized and safe is the first priority. But once that happens, there are resources available to help you and your family find answers and healing. There are many different options for mental health care across the country — including outpatient and residential treatment programs

    *This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If your child is having a mental health emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 -the Crisis Text Line- from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.

    About the Author

    Embark Behavioral Health

    Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit embarkbh.com.