Teen Suicide: Talking with Your Teen
Teen suicide is an epidemic in this era and it is terrifying, leaving so many people wondering what we can do about it. Suicide trends show us that we have lost nearly 45,000 lives to suicide in 2016 and suicide rates went up more than 30% since 1999. In Colorado alone, teen suicide rates jumped from the third leading cause of death for persons 10 to 24, to the leading cause in 2017. As for teen suicide rates nationwide, it has become the second leading cause of death.
Those who have lost someone to teen suicide are commonly left confused with many unanswered questions, such as, “How could this happen? Did I miss a sign? They were so young. Why didn’t they say anything or reach out to anyone?” Although suicide affects everyone and does not discriminate – parents, caregivers and the people who are influential to teenagers have a unique opportunity to impact change. It is important for those closest to teens to start having more conversations with them about suicide. We all have to join together to fight this trend – let’s change the conversation from unanswered and confusing questions to open discussions with our teens by engaging in difficult conversations and intervening early. Suicide is permanent; our hope is that by having open conversations about this topic with your teen(s), it will lessen the number of suicides.
I am lucky if I can get my teen to talk to me about their day… How do I talk to them about suicide? You are not alone in this struggle and any parent, caregiver, or educator of a teenager knows it sometimes feels impossible to have a conversation with them. Adolescence is the stage of fostering independence, pushing parents and caregivers away because there is a sense of ‘trying to figure life out on their own.’ This is a healthy and normal developmental process. However, as influential adults in their lives, it is important to know when to intervene. We know that teenagers will usually tell friends about their suicidal thoughts or feelings of depression before they tell adults. The intention here is to shed light on some warning signs/risk factors to be aware of based on the world in which our teenagers are living today and to present some strategies to address these concerns.
Warning Signs and Risk Factors:
Possible changes in behavior and active symptoms. There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to death by suicide such as trauma history, isolation, multiple life stressors, feelings of hopelessness and fearlessness, feeling like a burden, substance use and self-harming behaviors. Often times such contributing factors can be indicative to a parent or guardian that something isn’t quite right. If you do notice any of these behaviors or any sudden changes in your child, TALK to your teenager, don’t be afraid to address the topic of teen suicide, and GET HELP if you have any concerns. You don’t have to do it alone!
Some of these behaviors might look like:
- Your child tends to be high energy and chats with you, but starts to give one word responses and spends more time in their room, withdraws from friends or is demonstrating more anger and hostility.
- Your child starts to express hopelessness about the future or becoming overwhelmed with stress.
- Changes in your child’s normal routine, such as sleeping, appetite or loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.
Mental health.Mental health disorders and suicide are highly correlated – depression, dependence, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety to name a few. However, it is crucial to be aware that there are many who suffer in silence.
Depression: What we know about depression – it is not simply sadness that someone can “shake off.” Depression is being sad, even when something in your life is going well or life appears to be perfect. This is the scariest trend we find in teen depression/suicidal behavior – they can be unbelievably good at hiding it. By providing a safe and welcoming space to talk about depression without judgment, teens are more likely to be open and turn to adults when they are struggling. Depression is one of the most prevalent struggles in our society but the least talked about because there is an ongoing stigma that prevents our teens from speaking up.
Technology and social media. One of the most over looked but very frightening risk factors is technology and social media and there is no way of escaping it. There is increasing evidence that internet and technology use is associated to higher levels of depression and teen suicide attempts. There is still a need for more research on this topic but researchers have found the teens who averaged around five hours of technology use a day were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use. The rise in technology use has allowed suicide to become more accessible and in some cases even a movement where it is romanticized. It is strongly urged that you monitor your child’s technology use and consistently check in with them. For further insights on technology use with teenagers, check out our blog addressing ‘The Challenges of Being a Teenager in a Cyber World.’
Someone they know died by suicide. This is a significantly vulnerable and confusing time for teenagers. Many times, it brings up angry and painful questions, as teens ponder “why didn’t I see the signs” or “what could I have done differently?” This confusing time and these unanswered questions challenge what they know about life and how the world works. Use this time to illicit conversation with them, express how you feel about it and leave an open, safe space for them to express whatever they may feel.
Exploring Our Own Self-Awareness In Order to Have Difficult Conversations With Teens:
Is it attention-seeking behavior? We are frequently taught to ignore attention-seeking behavior so it is not enabled. This also causes parents or caregivers to not take statements about suicide or depression seriously. Even if these statements are attention seeking, it is still a cry for help and might be beneficial to seek the support of a professional to help them develop emotional regulation skills.
If I talk about suicide, will it give them ideas? This is a common misconception, thus, leading to no discussion and unanswered questions. It is important to know that research has shown that the more people are aware and engage in discussion about suicide, the more adults can recognize warning signs and intervene. So how do we start these conversations with teens about suicide and depression? Educate yourself about these topics and become comfortable with them so you can listen with the intent to understand. Most importantly, do not shame the child, don’t try to fix it or tell them how they feel. Instead, let them know it is OKAY to talk about depression and suicide. Show this by acknowledging their ability to be open with you, thank them for talking about it and validate their feelings. When there is a death by suicide in the news or at their school, use this to start a difficult conversation. Share your reactions of the news to create a safe place for your teen to disclose what they are feeling.
How do I feel when I talk about suicide? Be aware of any biases or triggers you may have related to this subject. Teens often feel that they can’t turn to their parents for a number of reasons, including the feelings of shame, disappointment, being a burden, especially if they know that telling their parents will trigger them. If this is a topic you struggle with, seek help of a professional to assist you in finding ways to talk about it. Suicide is a sensitive subject for many and remember you are not alone in trying to figure out how to face this issue with teens. There are professionals that can create a safe and nonbiased space for your teen to discuss any thoughts, worries, and questions.
**National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 OR text HOME to 741741
Center for Disease Control and Prevention –https://www.cdc.gov
Colorado Health Institute –https://www.coloradohealthinstitute.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
by Miranda Minasian, MC, LPCC – Greenwood Counseling Center Team Member
About Miranda: For the past 10 years, Miranda has worked with children and adolescents in multiple settings. Each one of these experiences has reinforced her passion for working with this population. Every child and teenager with whom she has worked has demonstrated amazing and inspiring resilience. The very reason she is a therapist today is to support her clients on their journey of finding confidence, happiness, self understanding, and to inspire them to follow their hopes and dreams – whatever they may be! Most importantly, Miranda enjoys helping each of them see how very much they matter! For more about Miranda Minasian, MC, LPCC click here.