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Suicide awareness: Parents can help make a difference

For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. For every adolescent death by suicide you hear about, approximately 25 suicide attempts are made. These are shocking statistics. Sadly, once again we have become aware of teen suicides in our community. Even if you didn’t know the individuals involved, parents and teens are intensely impacted when young people take their life.

 

For most, it is difficult to imagine that a teenager’s life is so intolerable that she would intentionally kill herself. No parent wants to ever contemplate the possibility, but with the increasing prevalence of teen suicide, parents need to educate themselves about suicide warning signs and prevention. From a teen’s perspective, suicide is a final attempt to stop, what is viewed as, unbearable pain. Teens in crisis have difficulty seeing the bigger picture, rather, they only see the present crisis with no solutions or possibility of improvement. This feeling of utter hopelessness, leads desperate teens to believe that they cannot live with the pain for another day. 

So what is a parent to do? First of all, it is essential to attempt to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support and love. If your teen does confide in you, make sure you take those concerns seriously. It’s important not to discount or trivialize what your teen is going through, as this can increase the feeling of hopelessness. If, on the other hand, your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, recommend a more impartial person, such as a relative, rabbi, teacher, coach, school counselor, or your child’s physician.

If you are concerned about your teen, it is essential that you ask direct questions. It’s understandable that parents would be reluctant to ask their adolescents if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide in their teen’s head. In actuality, addressing the topic of suicide in a caring, empathetic and nonjudgmental way shows that you are taking your child seriously and responding to their emotional pain. Sometimes it helps to explain why you’re asking. For example, you might say: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about feeling hopeless and seeing no reason for living. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”

Studies show that four out of five teen suicide attempts are preceded by clear warning signs. A warning sign does not mean your child will attempt suicide, but is an opportunity to ask questions and seek professional help. Parents should be aware of these warning signs that their teenager may be having suicidal thoughts:

They may begin to isolate themselves, pulling away from friends or family 

They may no longer participate in what was their favorite things or activities 

They may have recently developed trouble thinking clearly 

They may have changes in their personality (darker, more anxious, or non-caring) 

They may be experiencing changes in eating or sleeping habits 

They may talk about suicide or death in general 

They may express feelings of hopelessness or guilt 

They may exhibit self-destructive behavior (substance abuse, dangerous driving, recklessness, excessive risk taking) 

They may have changes in their personal hygiene and appearance 

They may complain about anxiety-related physical problems (stomachaches, headaches, hives, fatigue, blurred vision) 

Get Help: If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or your local hospital’s department of psychiatry can provide a list of doctors in your area. Your local mental health association or county medical society can also provide references. The Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition (formerly the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition) website has helpful information and resources: www.itsOK.us. In addition you can contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Susie Hurst, MA, is on the staff of Jewish Family Services serving as the adolescent specialist for the C.H.A.I. Program. The main goal of C.H.A.I. is to help teens better cope with the challenges of adolescence through preventive education programs and consultation and support services. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 913-327-8259.