What Parents Need to Know About Suicide Prevention

The period of adolescence is a time of change, both physically and mentally. Thus, possibly due to all of these changes, adolescents are reporting stress patterns that are similar to that of adults (Bethune, 2014). In fact, during the school year, adolescents report stress levels that are higher than that of adults. As a result of the stress, many teens are reporting feeling depressed. And in turn, depression is a potential risk factor for suicide.

According to one article by Kaslow and her colleagues (2013), “about 12 youth die by suicide” every day. So, how do parents recognize the warning signs or risk factors for suicide? And how do parents help their teens handle stress and therefore, reduce their chances of engaging in suicidal behavior?

Kaslow and her colleagues (2013) suggest that parents consider these 7 steps:

1. Know your facts

Parents should gain as much reputable information on suicide as they can. There is misinformation on suicide that may be going around, which in turn, can result in tragic consequences. For example, one may think that suicide is not a problem in adolescents, as they are “not old enough” to experience extreme levels of stress or to even think about suicide. This is not the case, as suicide is the “3rd leading cause of death among 10-24 year-olds.”

Also, as parents, know that you can recognize the warning signs and intervene- A professional is not the only one who can do this.

2. Recognize the warning signs.

Studies show that the majority of teen suicide attempts are preceded by warning signs. This does not mean that your child will attempt suicide, but it does mean that you should respond to your teen immediately and with empathy/concern.

According to an article by Stanford Children’s Health, these are some warning signs of suicidal behavior:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits

  • Withdrawal from friends or family

  • Unexplained or unusually violent behavior

  • Sexual promiscuity, truancy, and vandalism

  • Drastic personality changes (sadness, anxiety, exhaustion, for instance)

  • Talking or writing about suicide

  • Giving away prized possessions

  • Doing worse in school

3.Know the risk factors

As a parent, you should know that there are certain situations and conditions that are related to more of a risk for suicide. For example, previous suicide attempts and mental health disorders (such as depression and anxiety) are related to a higher risk for suicide. In addition, parents should know that the following are also related to a higher risk of suicide:

  • Alcohol and substance abuse

  • Feelings of hopelessness/guilt/loneliness/worthlessness/low self-esteem

  • Loss of interest in friends or activities that were previously enjoyed

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Bullying or being a bully

  • Disruptive behavior

  • High-risk behaviors (drinking and driving)

  • Recent or serious loss such as a death or divorce in the family

  • Family history of suicide

  • Family violence (child abuse, neglect, domestic violence)

  • Sexual orientation and identity confusion,

  • Access to lethal meals (such as gun or pills)

  • Stigma that is related to asking for help

  • Barriers to accessing mental health services (unreliable transportation, financial costs).