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It can be hard to remember how it felt to be a teen, caught in that gray area between childhood and adulthood. Sure, it’s a time of tremendous possibility, but it also can be a period of stress and worry. There’s pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically, and to act responsibly. Adolescence is a time of greater independence that often conflicts with the rules and expectations set by others.
Reasons behind a youth’s suicide or attempted suicide are complex. Although suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts increases greatly during adolescence. Suicide has become the leading cause of death for young people in Utah ages 10 to 17. Suicide rates differ between boys and girls. Girls attempt suicide about twice as often as boys. Yet, boys die by suicide about four times as often girls.
Young people with mental health problems — such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia — are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Youth going through major life changes (i.e. parents’ divorce, moving, a parent leaving home due to military service or parental separation, financial changes) and those who are victims of bullying are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.
The risk of suicide increases dramatically when kids and teens have access to firearms, and over half of all suicides in Utah are with a gun. Because Utah is high gun ownership state, it’s even more important that guns and ammunition are unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.
Suicide among youth often happens after a stressful life event, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict.
Youth who are thinking about suicide might:
Many youth who attempt or die by suicide have given some type of warning to loved ones ahead of time. So it’s important for parents to know the warning signs so youth who might be suicidal can get the help they need.
Some adults feel that kids who say they are going to hurt or kill themselves are “just doing it for attention.” It’s important to realize that if youth are ignored when seeking attention, it may increase the chance of them harming themselves. It’s important to see warning signs as serious, not as “attention-seeking” acts that should be ignored.
Keep a close eye on a youth who is depressed and withdrawn. Understanding depression in youth is vital because it can look different from commonly held beliefs about depression. For example, it may take the form of problems with friends, grades, sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying. Keep in mind that monitoring social media accounts is essential. Know what your youth is doing online and who they are communicating with. It’s not snooping, it’s parenting.
It’s important to try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your youth confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a teen it can feel immense and consuming. It’s important not to minimize or discount what your child is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor.
If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health provider, or your health insurance can provide a list of providers in your area. In an emergency, you can call (800) 273-TALK (8255).
If your child is in a crisis situation, seek immediate help or go to the nearest emergency room to get a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and referrals to appropriate resources. If you’re unsure about whether you should bring your child to the emergency room, contact your doctor or call (800) 273-TALK (8255) for help.
If you’ve scheduled an appointment with a mental health professional, make sure to keep the appointment, even if your child says he or she is feeling better or doesn’t want to go. Suicidal thoughts do tend to come and go; however, it is important that your child get help developing the skills needed to decrease the likelihood that suicidal thoughts and behaviors will emerge again if a crisis arises.
Suicide is preventable with attention, support, and resources for youth in need. If your child is struggling, ask for help.
*Material abridged from KidsHealth