No parent wants to think that their child may want to end his or her life. However, the fact is some adolescents reach a point in their lives when the burdens they carry become more than they can manage and they feel the only way of escape is death.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-24 years old. In 2003, 8% (approximately 1 million) adolescents attempted suicide, of whom 1,700 died. More than 1 in 10 high school students have attempted suicide, and almost 20% of high school students have seriously considered suicide. Adolescent girls are four times more likely to attempt suicide than boys, but boys account for 81% of completed suicide. Boys tend to use more fatal methods of suicide such as firearms, while girls’ suicide attempts usually involve drug overdose.
Unfortunately, there is no one warning sign that parents can look for to indicate with certainty that their child is suicidal or is about to make an attempt. Some signs parents may notice include hearing their teen excessively talking about committing suicide, dying, or disappearing. This would include writing such comments on homework assignments, in journals, or on social media formats like Facebook or Instagram. Suicidal adolescents may also express hopelessness and withdraw from family and friends, end close relationships, and give away personal possessions. Parents of suicidal teens may notice a drastic change in their child’s appearance, behavior, and personality characteristics, including not only becoming more depressed but also more erratic.
In recent years, parents have become increasingly concerned that if the media covers the suicide of an adolescent in the news, other adolescents would be more likely to end their lives. This phenomenon is known as the “copycat effect.” Limited research indicates that adolescent suicide does appear to increase due to media coverage; however, this is most likely to occur only with adolescents who are already at higher risk for suicide. Explanations for this phenomenon include over-identification with the victim in the media story; a desire for the same type of public recognition and sympathy; or a sense of validation of their preexisting thoughts about attempting suicide.
If parents notice any of these warning signs or are concerned about their children’s behaviors, they should not wait to seek help. Parents should take every suicidal threat or warning sign seriously. If the threat is imminent, parents should seek immediate psychiatric care by taking their child to the emergency room or calling a crisis hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). They should also seek outpatient therapy such as that offered at Perspectives Of Troy Counseling Centers.
Parents should not be afraid to talk to their children about suicide. They should be supportive of their teens and not belittle their feelings or treat them in a dismissive or degrading manner because of their suicidal thoughts. Listen closely to them, assure them that suicide is not their only option, and then take the proper steps to get them the help they need.