Caring Adults Are Key To Prevention
Being an influential adult in the life of a teenager can be as frustrating as it is rewarding. The events of this last year have crushed most families under an unprecedented mountain of stress. And not everyone is equipped to cope.
If you believe your child or teen is planning (or has attempted) suicide, call right now – 1-800-273-8255
There are ways for adults to both prevent mental distress in teens and learn how to intervene before a crisis arises.
Building Trusting Relationships Can Prevent Youth Suicide
Despite popular belief to the contrary, most teenagers want a close relationship with their parents or guardians. Forming a good relationship with your teens is a two-way process of sharing values, feelings and support. Early intervention is key to reaching teens before youth begin to contemplate suicide as a way to cope with their distress.
Here are ways you can improve your relationship with your tweens and teens:
- Provide a stable, safe physical and emotional home environment.
- Spend quality time with young people. Find things to do together. Be present.
- LISTEN to your teenagers. Not only to what is being said but to the non-verbal messages
- Be supportive, not intrusive or dismissive.
- Encourage and demonstrate the appropriate expression of emotions and feelings.
Trust your Gut! Intervene Early in Stressful Situations
Some severe emotional life events may cause teens to feel unable to cope during their day-to-day lives. The trauma brought on by the Pandemic is weighing disproportionately on our youth. They may be feeling isolated, lonely, and anxious.
- Ask your tweens and teens often if they are OK. Ask them how they are feeling.
- Spend more time listening TO them as opposed to talking AT them.
- Take any threats or talk of suicide seriously
- Learn and teach your teens self-care mental health practices (link to mind/body practices)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (Inglés y Español)
Crisis Text “HOME” To 741741
NAMI Hotline 1-800-950-6264
What to say to a youth who might be struggling or in emotional distress
“Are you OK?
“How are you feeling today?”
“If you need anything, let me know. I’m here for you.”
“Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?”
Even though teens often seem resistant, they are likely to be comforted to know that someone genuinely cares. You can repeat the same question in a couple of different ways. Follow-up. Ask again. Whatever the answer, give them space to talk. Be a good listener.
Behaviors that may signal extreme distress and may lead to suicide ideation
Children exposed to violence, life-threatening events or traumatic losses are at greater risk for depression, alcohol/substance abuse and suicide. The Pandemic and stay-at-home orders have disproportionately affected our youth and their mental health. These warning symptoms can appear at any time and may signal an urgent need for proper intervention.
- Dramatic change in personality
- Girlfriend or boyfriend trouble. Trouble getting along with friends or parents.
- Withdrawal from people who used to be close.
- Schoolwork slipping, failing to live up to youth’s own standards
- Always seems bored and having trouble concentrating
- Acting out as a rebel in unexplained and severe ways
- Pregnant and finding it hard to cope
- Run away from home
- Abusing drugs and/or alcohol
- Complaints of headaches/stomach aches that may be real or perceived
- Changed eating or sleeping habits
- Worsening appearance
- Giving away prized possessions
- Writing notes or poems about death
- Talking about suicide…even if it sounds like “That’s the last straw, “I can’t take it anymore,” Nobody cares about me.” “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
- Previous suicide attempts
- Having a friend or relative who has committed suicide
If you’d like more detailed information, contact NAMI at 1-800-950-8264
What to do if you suspect your youth is severely distressed and/or considering suicide
Although teenagers may appear to resist, they are more likely to feel comforted and less fearful by knowing that someone genuinely cares.
- Ask your youth directly. Do not be afraid to use the word “suicide.” In fact, getting the word out in the open may help your tween or teen feel like they’ve been heard.
- Say something like “Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?”
- Reassure your teen that you love him or her. That you are present and willing to help, no matter how awful the problems seem. That all problems can be worked out.
- Ask your youth to talk about his or her feelings. LISTEN QUIETLY AND CAREFULLY. Do not dismiss, criticize or use judgmental language.
- Remove all lethal weapons from your home. That includes guns, pills, kitchen utensils, and ropes.
- Seek professional help. Ask your family doctor to guide you. Outpatient and hospital-based programs are available.
How Will I Know if it’s a Crisis?
A friend is talking about, texting, posting or has written a note expressing a plan or intention to self-harm or take their own life
A friend talks about unbearable pain and ending that pain
Friend hears voices telling them to kill themselves
You are afraid to leave them for fear they will attempt suicide
You discover a friend has already made a non-lethal attempt (pills, cutting with intention to die, etc.)
Remember to trust your gut
What Do I Do in a Crisis?
- Stay Calm
- Don’t wait to act
- Ask your teen directly, “Have you ever felt so bad that you have had thoughts of suicide?”
- Be prepared to listen.
- Do not leave the child alone
- Remove any items from the home or area that could potentially be used for suicide
- Assure them you are there for them and will get help, let them know you care
- Take them to a mental health center
- Call a suicide hotline
If you are a parent or adult who would like more training and understanding in how to address the mental health of your teen or others, go to MentalHealthFirstAid.com