How Parents Can Help Prevent Suicide

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Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds (first is accidental injury). That means more young people die from suicide in a year than cancer, heart disease, and school or gang violence.   As scary as that is, even scarier are studies reporting that suicide is not on the top 10 list of things parents worry about.

I returned this week from the 49th annual American Association of Suicidology Conference in Chicago. 1200 clinicians, crisis center staff, researchers, loss survivors and more gathered to address this important topic. It was truly inspirational to be around so many people dedicated to reducing stigma and preventing suicide.

Suicide truly is a public health crisis. It affects every race, culture, age and socioeconomic group. A few months ago, I wrote about not being afraid to talk to your kids about suicide, and I stand by that sentiment. (https://teenlineonline.org/parents/dont-be-afraid-to-discuss-suicide-with-your-teens/) Asking a suicidal person about suicide doesn’t put the idea in their head; it generally offers relief and gives them permission to talk about it.

As parents, our job is to prepare our kids for the future-the good and the bad. We can’t avoid dealing with certain things by not talking about them. We can think (and hope) they are too young to know about or experience things like depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, but from my experience, they know and feel more than we think. Start conversations early (in age and maturity appropriate terms) to decrease stigma and show them you are a safe haven for their big feelings.

90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness; many times untreated or hidden away.   Depression and anxiety can often run in families. Make sure your kids know that they can come to you when they feel sad, scared, or alone, and you will support and not shame them for their feelings.

We do know that most teens who attempt suicide give warning signs (https://teenlineonline.org/parents/understand/should-i-be-concerned/. ) A dramatic change in appearance or behavior, a decrease in motivation, drop in grades or even comments like “things would be better if I weren’t here,” are red flags for intervention. A breakup, loss of a friendship or death of a loved one can be triggers for a teen who is already struggling. We can’t be too scared to ask the questions or think “not my kid.”

We also need to teach our kids to look out for their friends and know when their friend’s secrets are too much for them. In our suicide prevention outreach, we say: “a mad friend is better than a dead friend.” There is help and hope if the teen can access it. With intervention and support, most suicidal teens do not grow up to be suicidal adults.

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  1. Thank you so much this is a great information

  2. ConcernedMom says:

    Should I take my 5-year-old seriously when he talks about killing himself?

    1. TEEN LINE says:

      I believe that any time anyone, even a 5 year old, talks about killing himself, it should be taken seriously, and follow up questions should be asked, like what does he mean by that? Do he have any ideas of what he would do? I would also wonder what else is going on with him. Thanks so much for reaching out.

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