No discussion about children’s mental health issues is complete without mentioning suicide. Suicide is a real threat to young people. In fact, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for young persons ages 15-24 and has increased more than 200% in the last decade. Colorado typically ranks between 5th and 10th in the nation in suicide deaths. Spring is a higher risk time of year.
While not all teenagers who try or succeed at suicide show warning signs, most teens will have some behaviors that draw the attention of adults. If you suspect your child or teenager is thinking about suicide, even if the signs are absent, have a talk with your child. Signs that may be present in a teen who is thinking about suicide include:
- A change in sleeping habits, eating, studying, activity level, sexual activity, school or job performance.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Increase in drug or alcohol use.
- Suicidal threats or talk.
- Previous suicide attempts
- Sudden change in behavior
- Isolation or cutting off friendships
- Thrill-seeking behavior
- Expressing helplessness or an "I don’t care" attitude.
- Feeling and/or expressing that life is meaningless or hopeless.
- Family disruption: move, divorce, or other major changes.
Some suicidal thinking may be preceded by a stressful event such as a breakup with a girlfriend, divorce or significant loss, but not all suicides are bought on by a stressful event. The most common feature is a sense of hopelessness. A suicidal person feels that nothing he does will change his situation and suicide seems to be the only way out.
Talking about suicide will not make someone want to try it. In fact, the caring and concern shown by others can dispel the hopeless feelings. Talking openly can help your child sort through the problems and provide a sense of relief and understanding. It is one of the most helpful things you can do.
If you have any indication that a youth is considering it, that youth needs intervention from a responsible and caring adult. When a hero, friend, family member, neighbor, etc. has committed suicide, adolescents are more likely to consider it an option for dealing with their problems. Talking about it openly is also very important.
Someone who has been considering suicide may look happier and more relaxed once they have decided to follow through with a plan. They feel a sense of relief because they have made a decision that promises to stop the pain.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
- Never, never, never ignore a child who talks about suicide. Talk about suicide is not "game playing." It is a real cry for help.
- Talk to your teenager. Let him know you care. If risk is imminent, do not leave him alone. Take steps to protect him in the immediate situation. Remove any dangerous objects from the home such as guns, knives, sharp scissors, medicines, alcohol and car keys. Do not leave your child alone.
The following is a list of questions you can ask:
"Have you been feeling sad or unhappy?
"Does it ever seem like things will never get better?"
"Have you felt so bad that you thought about hurting yourself?"
"Do you have any thoughts of ending your life?"
"Have you thought about how you might kill yourself?"
"Have you made plans how to kill yourself?"
"What are your plans? When do you intend to do it?"
"Is there anything that might keep you from hurting yourself such as people who care about you, religious beliefs, responsibilities to others or something you wanted to live to do or see?"
As you go down the list, a "yes" answer shows more danger of a suicide attempt. If your child feels hopeless about the future, has made a plan for carrying out his intention, has already taken steps toward this plan and feels that there is nothing to hold him back, he needs to be evaluated immediately by professionals. Call 911, a suicide hotline or your mental health center.