- What are the signs of a mental health crisis?
- What are the signs of suicidality?
- How can I help my child manage their mental health and develop coping skills?
- What do I do if I think my child is suicidal?
Most teens don’t ever think about, let alone attempt, suicide. Yet national suicide rates have been increasing over the past 10 years. Many teens who attempt or die from suicide do have a mental condition, but most often this is not the sole factor. The stress that comes from being an adolescent combined with many of life’s challenges can make it hard for some young people to cope. Without the proper coping strategies, they may feel hopeless and turn to self-destructive behaviors as a solution.
What factors can help protect teens from suicide risk ?
While no teen is immune from mental and emotional challenges, there are some factors that are known to protect teens’ mental wellness and prevent them from engaging in self-destructive behaviors, including suicide. These include, but are not limited to:
- Overall physical, mental, and emotional health
- A safe home, school and community
- Positive, loving and supportive relationships
- Intellectual, social, and physical competence
- Social Emotional Skills (e.g., “ life skills,” like self-awareness, relationship skills, self-management, anger & stress management, responsible decision-making, problem solving, communication skills)
- Sense of autonomy, empowerment and boundaries
- Life meaning and purpose
What are some risk factors for mental illness and suicide?
Mental health issues can be brought on by changes in social life, transitions in family life, stressful or unsafe conditions at home or school; discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, or exposure to violence and trauma. There are also psychological and personality characteristics that can make people vulnerable to mental illness, as well as biological factors, including genetics and chemical imbalances in the brain. The following is a list of factors that are often connected to mental health challenges and mental illness, and suicidality:
- Violence and home, school or work
- Verbal, emotional or sexual abuse
- Family history of suicide
- Easy access to lethal means like firearms, medications, poison, cars and ropes
- Isolation due to living alone, living rurally or feeling like no one understands you
- Changes like moving or transitioning to a different job or school
- Loss of a loved one or a significant relationship
- Poor health, mentally or physically
- Lack of social emotional skills
- One or more prior suicide attempts
- Failure at work or school
- Unrealistic expectations of oneself or inability to accept failure
- Rejection by peers
- Harassment due to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity
- Bullying or being bullied at school/work
- Suicide of someone with whom they identify with or feel close to
- Substance abuse (which includes vaping and dabbing)
- Natural disaster
- Lack of support services
Cause for Immediate Concern
Indications of Serious Depression
Other Warning Signs
Other Things People might say
Connect & Communicate:
The Steps Towards Helping a Suicidal Person
Open communication will be an important tool in dealing with a teen you suspect may be suicidal. Remember that this is not a time to ask a lot of questions or suggest that your teen “will get over it.” Try to listen more and speak less.
Following are ways that you can show you care, gather information and offer support:
- Show You Care
- Listen. Give the person your full attention. n Be supportive and non-judgmental.
- Be honest and direct. Speak slowly and calmly. n Be positive and reassuring.
- Acknowledge the person’s pain.
- Ask About Suicidal Intent
- “Some people in your situation might not know what to do but there are healthy choices to deal with your pain.”
- “Are you thinking about suicide?”
- “Do you have thoughts of killing yourself?”
- Get Help
- “You are not alone. Help is available.” “Who do you trust that you’d like to talk to?” “Let’s find someone together,” or “Let’s call together and I’ll be right here with you.”
- Offer help but recognize your own limits.
- Do not be the only person offering help or providing support.
- Offer Hope
Help people understand that life in general and theirs in particular, has purpose and meaning. n “I’m sure there are other people who care about you. Let’s try to identify some of them.”
“Perhaps it’s hard to see it right now, but you do have a place in the big picture.”
“I can understand that you feel really bad right now, but there are other solutions that can help you feel better.”
How Should I Respond to Suicidal Behavior?
|Always offer hope||Leave a suicidal person alone|
|Identify and seek available resources||Act shocked|
|Understand that there are alternatives to suicide|
Get safely through the crisis
|Interrupt or offer advice, or ask a lot of questions|
|Keep a suicidal person away from things they can use to harm themselves||Minimize or discount the problem|
|Argue about if suicide is right or wrong|
|Try to forcefully remove a weapon|
|Promise to keep a secret|
|Offer solutions-other than resources|
|Say anything that might cause shame or guilty feelings|
Help Prevent Suicide
- Address issues of anxiety and depression
- Pay attention
- Discourage isolation
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle
- Support the treatment plan
- Find and maintain close, trustworthy friends
- Identify personal strengths and positive attributes and share those with your teen
- Help them learn to create a positive mindset and motivate positive actions
- Keep a list of people they can talk to when they are struggling
- Be substance-free. Substances interfere with a healthy brain and healthy decisions
Contact & Collaborate:
As a parent or caregiver, you have an important role in supporting your teen’s mental wellbeing. If you think your teen may have a mental health issue, reach out and get the support you need to help them feel better.
- If your teen’s mental state is at a crisis level (e.g., they have harmed [or threatened to harm] themselves or others), call 911 or go to your local emergency room.
- Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor: Let the doctor know your concerns and give your teen the opportunity to speak to the doctor in private. The doctor may recommend a follow-up appointment with a mental health professional.
- Work with your teen’s guidance counselor, the school nurse, and other school personnel to secure necessary support.
- Ask the school psychologist, therapist or other mental health professional for advice on how to respond to your child and handle difficult behavior.
- Contact other trusted adults in your teen’s life (relatives, clergy, teacher, sports coach) so they can help support them, too.
- Consider family counseling with a licensed therapist.
- Reach out to your health insurance or state/county mental health authority for more support.
- Enroll in parent support groups or training programs, especially those designed for parents of children with a mental illness.
- If treatment has been recommended for your teen (e.g., therapy or medication) support them with managing and maintaining their treatment plan
- Set important phone numbers on your own and your teen’s phone, for example:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- The Crisis Text Line: 741741
- The non-emergency number for the local police department
- The phone number for a trusted friend or relative
You will play an important role in ongoing support and monitoring of your teen’s mental health. Continue to learn and stay up-to-date on mental health topics. Below are some additional resources you might find helpful.
Mental Health.gov Parent and Caregivers page https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers
National Institute of Health Childen and Mental Health page https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/children-and-mental-health/index.shtml
National Alliance for Mental Illness Learning to Help Your Child and Your Family https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Family-Members-and-Caregivers/Learning-to-Help-Your-Child-and-Your-Family
Helping parents talk to their child about multiple traumatic issues in a Healthy way: Child Mind Institute: childmind.org