Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 24. As a parent, it is a heartbreaking and terrifying revelation to find out that your teenager is having suicidal thoughts. It’s natural for you to be overwhelmed and not know what to do.
The good news is that having supportive parents and good mental health care can go a long way toward preventing suicide. If you believe that your teen is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, read through this list of things to do if your adolescent is having suicidal thoughts.
Know the Signs of Suicidal Ideation
Most suicides are the result of untreated depression, particularly when it’s combined with substance abuse or another type of mental health disorder. While any teen could become suicidal, a teen with depression is more at risk. The signs of depression include:
- Sadness, tearfulness, or frequent crying, particularly if it lasts two weeks or longer. It’s common for teens to have some mood swings, but if their sadness is impacting their daily activities or lasting for a long time, it could be depression.
- Uncharacteristic irritability or anger. Depression can cause a spectrum of negative feelings, and anger and annoyance are some of them. Pay careful attention if your teen is acting aggressively.
- Isolation and withdrawal from friends and family. Is your teen staying in his or her bedroom and not communicating with others? This is a sign of depression.
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. If your teen isn’t going to sports practice or suddenly doesn’t want to go out with friends to movies or community events, suspect depression.
- Lack of focus or energy. One symptom of a lack of energy and focus is doing poorly in school. If your grades are plummeting, it’s time to get to the bottom of it.
- Misplaced guilt. Depression can cause a feeling of guilt even when the person hasn’t done anything wrong or hurt anyone.
- Aches and pains. Sometimes, depression can cause physical symptoms that have no medical explanation. Your teen might have frequent headaches, stomach pain, or muscle aches, for example.
Whether or Not Your Teen Is Depressed, Know These Suicidal Ideation Symptoms
- Talking about death or dying or alluding to “when I’m gone.”
- Interest in getting a weapon or stocking up on pain pills or other substances that could be used for a suicide.
- Web searches for suicide methods, how to procure a gun, or other topics that could mean they are considering suicide and making a plan.
- Putting their affairs in order: Giving away favorite items, making an effort to get into contact with family members they haven’t seen in years, smoothing over hurt feelings from years ago, and so on.
- Threatening or attempting suicide.
Talk to Your Teen About Suicidal Thoughts
While it can be difficult to bring up the topic of suicide with your teen, it’s important that you do so. Some parents are afraid that by talking about it, they might be giving their teen ideas that they didn’t already have. This isn’t an issue you should worry about: Instead, talking about it will reassure your teen that you are there to listen.
You can come right out and ask your teen if they think they are depressed. You can also ask if they’ve ever thought about committing suicide. Of course, your adolescent might say no even if they have, but just by putting it on the table, you’ve opened up the possibility for a conversation about it.
Remember that most suicidal teens don’t actually want to die; they want their pain to go away. Asking your teen if they have pain like this can encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling.
If your teen does confide that yes, they are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to stay calm. Of course, this will be very difficult to do! But if you overreact, it can cause your teen to further withdraw.
If the conversation is calm and your teen says that they have thought about it in the past, he or she is likely in no immediate danger. If, however, they say that yes, they’ve thought about it and they have a specific plan, then it is a more dangerous situation.
You will need to use your instincts and what you know about your child to know whether it is an emergency situation that requires an immediate trip to the emergency room. While you want to keep your teen safe, you also don’t want to overreact and take a calm, rational teenager to the ER because they considered suicide a few months ago.
Remove Potential Weapons
Even if you are convinced your teen hasn’t seriously considered suicide in some time, any chance that they might be suicidal means that you must remove anything that can be used as a weapon from his or her reach.
This means that if you have guns in the house, you might consider getting rid of them or at least changing where you keep the keys. (Your teen likely knows how to get into the gun cabinet.) If they are not currently locked up, do this immediately.
Look through your medicine cabinet to see if there’s anything your teen might try to overdose on and lock up those medications, too. Place large knives in a locked drawer or cabinet, too.
Seek Professional Help
An important way to keep your teen safe from suicidal thoughts is to seek professional help. If you suspect that they are depressed, make an appointment with their primary care doctor. They will refer you to a mental health professional. If they already have a therapist, call them and talk to them about the next steps. Sometimes, inpatient treatment is recommended.
If you believe your teen is in immediate danger, don’t be afraid to go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The most important thing is keeping your teen safe; once they’re in a safe place, their mental health needs can be addressed.
If your teen has had suicidal thoughts, don’t feel as though all hope is lost. Many people who are still alive and well today have gone through these feelings. Support and proper mental health care help your teen get past this difficult time and thrive as they enter adulthood.