The suicide risk is high for ages 10 to 24

Since our son Paul’s death by suicide as a result of his bipolar disease in 1999, I have made it my mission to help erase the stigma of mental illness and work hard toward preventing suicide. I applaud Jennifer McGregor’s work to help teenagers who are suicidal.  I certainly wish I had had her advice when my son was struggling with his mania and depression. Thank you very much, Jennifer, for writing this piece for Choices. Your words are very helpful.

How To Help A Teenager Who Is Suicidal

by Jennifer McGregor

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Photo via Pixabay by Giesje

Death by suicide is a serious problem in America, and it doesn’t affect one particular age group. In fact, young people ages 10-24 are highly at risk, as suicide is the third leading cause of death. The reasons vary, as do the solutions, so it’s important to know what the warning signs are and how to address them.

Because the teen years can be so full of emotion and distress – especially where school and friends are concerned – it’s difficult for young people to see past it. For many teenagers, the moment is all that matters, which can be devastating when a relationship goes bad or when bullying takes a dark turn. Social media also plays a role, as these days everyone has smartphones on which they can record moments and use them against someone else. Even an embarrassing video made in jest can be hurtful when it’s uploaded online and shared with others. If there’s a teen in your life who is affected by bullying or by hurtful events involving their peers, talk to them. Let them know you’re listening and that you understand because everyone goes through hard times at school. Knowing they are not alone can be extremely helpful when dealing with an emotional time.

Some of the signs that a teen may be depressed or having suicidal thoughts include expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, experiencing a sudden change in mood or behavior, a sudden decline in performance at school or with after-school activities, getting into trouble with authority figures, and big changes in sleep habits or personal hygiene. If you are the parent or caregiver to a teenager who is exhibiting these behaviors, sit down and talk to them. Let them know that you are taking them seriously. Often, people who find the courage to open up to others about suicidal thoughts or depression are deemed “crazy” by their peers, or they find that their feelings are diminished by people who don’t think the matter is one for concern.

Because the teen years are so volatile, there could be any number of reasons a young person sees no other way out; they may have been affected by the suicide or death of a loved one, they may have a mood disorder or chemical imbalance, or they may be grappling with a life-changing decision such as coming out. It’s important to remain calm, refrain from using accusatory statements, and don’t introduce guilt into the conversation. The feelings your loved one is experiencing may well be outside of your understanding, and that’s okay. Sometimes a professional is needed to intervene and that’s all right, too. Counselors, therapists, and other healthcare providers are there to help, and are sometimes necessary in order to diagnose mental disorders.

In fact, certain disorders can be difficult to diagnose due to drug or alcohol abuse, which is common in young people who are battling depression. Bipolar disorder, especially, can be misdiagnosed early on as something else if substances are interfering. If possible, help your loved one get to the doctor for a checkup. It could be that they need medication to help them treat the root of the issue.

It’s important to discourage isolation, and to watch for possible triggers for depression and anxiety before they even occur. Parents know their children better than anyone else, so if you feel a certain event or friendship will only lead to trouble, don’t be afraid to play Bad Cop and intervene. Take an interest in their school activities and in who they spend time with outside of the house. It’s also a good idea to monitor their social media habits and ask who they’re talking to. You don’t have to be intrusive, but knowing which apps they use – such as Snapchat – can be helpful in keeping them safe and in knowing where to look when trouble arises.

If your loved one admits to thoughts of suicide, try to remain calm and remember that it’s a very good thing that they are opening up to you. Don’t react in a negative way or tell them they don’t mean what they say; instead, show them you care and that you are paying attention. Let them know how sorry you are that they are in so much pain and that you want to help. If a suicide threat is imminent, don’t leave the person alone. Remove any items that could be used for harm from the area and call 911. Remember, a threat must be taken seriously every time. The theory that a person who threatens to kill him or herself won’t go through with it is simply not true.

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Jennifer McGregor has wanted to be a doctor since she was little. Now, as a pre-med student, she’s well on her way to achieving that dream. She helped create PublicHealthLibrary.org with a friend as part of a class project. With it, she hopes to provide access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When Jennifer isn’t working on the site, you can usually find her hitting the books in the campus library or spending some downtime with her dog at the local park.

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  1. […] people at risk. Jennifer McGregor has been my guest before – you can read her previous article here. I’m delighted to have her back. Her words make a lot of sense to me. Please join me in welcoming […]

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