903 Forest Street, Georgetown, TX 78626

How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Teen Suicide

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for middle and high schoolers.  Suicide is often, though not always, preventable.  Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.  It’s important for adults and teens alike to be aware of those signs and know the steps to take in the event they see them in a family member, friend, or acquaintance.  Every single instance of a suicide warning sign needs to be responded to, because doing so will save lives.  

Who’s At Risk?

Every adolescent is at risk, because adolescence is a turbulent, hormonal, emotional time of human development.  We are more connected and more lonely than ever before, and when idolized celebrities complete suicide, it puts more kids at risk.  All that being said, BIPOC teens, LGBTQIA+ teens, teens with a family history of depression, and teens who use substances are much more at risk.  Substance use is particularly concerning, because when under the influence, teens become even more impulsive and may make choices which can’t be undone.  While girls attempt suicide at four times the rate of boys, boys complete suicide at a higher rate, because they typically use a more lethal method.  We’ll be talking about gun safety in a future article.  For now, the important thing to remember is, making sure no minors have access to a weapon, especially if they are struggling with mental health issues or substance use.  Access to a weapon exponentially increases likelihood of completing suicide or having permanent damage for a non-permanent situation.  

Look for the Signs

Notice their language. 

Is a teen making statements such as, “no one wants me around,” “you’d be better off without me,” or “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up”?  Those types of statements indicate a teen who is dreaming, fantasizing, or believing suicide is an option and maybe the only one to their situation. 

Notice their behavior.

Does your teen struggling with taking care of basic tasks such as waking up for school, hygiene, or interacting with others?  Do they appear hopeless, overwhelmed, are they process the loss of something in their lives?  You know your child best.  They need you to be attuned to changes in their behavior, and to ask hard questions, so they can get the help they need.  Alternatively, your teen may be more irritable or angry than usual, lashing out at others, and pushing people away.  Those may be signs a teen in your life is struggling with suicidal thoughts.  Sometimes teens make overt comments such as, I feel like dying or makes gestures such as pretending to shoot themselves in the head. 

It’s important to respond to these immediately. 

We can take for granted some of the things teens say, because we as adults write it off as #teendrama.  Healthy teens aren’t reaching for suicidal thoughts to solve their problems.

How to Respond

Many parents we work with fear bringing up suicide to their teen.  They worry, “if I bring it up, I’ll plant ideas in their head,” which is simply not true.  If you suspect a teen may be having thoughts of harming themselves, nothing you say is going to make it any more real.  They have already been having the thoughts, and it is often a relief for them to say it out loud. 

Suicidal thoughts lose some of their power when they’re brought out into the light and discussed. 

It’s okay to ask point blank, “are you feeling suicidal or having thoughts of hurting yourself?” 

However they respond, it’s important for you to express your concern and state what you’ve been observing.  Let them know in no uncertain terms you love them, you want good things for them, and you see them struggling.  So many of the feelings underlying suicidal thoughts stem from loneliness, not feeling good enough, and feeling like they don’t matter. 

Looking them in the eyes, and saying to the effect of “I see you.  I am here for you” can have a huge impact. 

If your teen does choose to disclose suicidal thoughts, watch your reaction.  Stay calm.  Remember they are safe in this moment and have taken a brave step by being honest with you.  Watch yourself for over or under reactions.  Build the muscle of reflective listening and let them know they were heard, “That sounds really scary; it sounds like you’ve been thinking of hurting yourself and not wanting to be here anymore.  Did I get that right?”  Reflective listening helps teens feel heard and understood, which will start to combat many of those underlying emotions causing such distress. 

Remind them they are not alone.  Remind them you love them and are here for them.  Remind them of the other people in their lives who care about and love them. 

Let them know there is treatment for what they are going through, and there is help.  Give them hope.  Talk with them about how this will not last forever.  If it makes sense, share a time when you were going through something hard and wanted to give up.  Remind them they can do hard things.

For Immediate Concerns

If your child’s thoughts are at the point where they have a plan, such as using a knife, taking medication in the house, and know when they plan to do it.  You’ll need to take immediate steps to keep them safe. 

  • Limit access to anything which could be used to harm themselves (weapons, medication, rope, substances such as alcohol). 
  • Make sure someone is with them at all times. 
  • Call for an assessment.  This phone number in Georgetown is the 24/7 crisis line: 1-800-841-1255.

It’s terrifying when your child is expressing a plan for suicide.  Take a deep breath and feel free to contact someone in your support system to be there for you as you go through this.  In every community, there are 24/7 crisis lines where your child can be assessed to make sure they get the help they need.  You can also call 911.  Police officers are trained in crisis intervention and will know who to contact in your community if you are concerned about your child’s imminent safety. Check out our resources page for additional options.  

In our town, there are two adolescent psychiatric facilities, where you can also take your child for an assessment any time night or day.  They are there to support you during this very difficult time. 

Model reaching out and asking for help.  Show your child it is okay to be open and get the help needed to heal.  Remember to breathe. 

When your child is safe, look into getting your own support through a group, individual counseling, or from a faith-based community, friend or family member. 

No one needs to go through this alone.  

If you feel you need extra support now for yourself or your teen, connect with us today.

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