How to Help a Suicidal Teen

Teen suicide is devastating. When a teen feels so desperate that he contemplates, attempts, or succeeds at taking his own life, the repercussions are far-reaching. No teen should ever have to get to that point, and no family should have to cope with the loss of a child to suicide. There are ways that you can help a teen who is suicidal. Whether it is your own child, a student, a friend of your child’s, or someone else, take the time to learn how to help. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Teen suicide is more common than you might think. The statistics are grim, and the first step toward helping a suicidal teen is understanding that the threat is real and it is serious. Among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24, the third leading cause of death is suicide. It is the fourth leading cause of death in kids between 10 and 14. Nearly one-quarter of all teens will have thought about committing suicide at some point in their lives. When a teenager confides in you that he feels like killing himself or is showing signs of contemplating suicide, take it seriously. Here are some important ways that you can help that young person.

  1. Learn about the signs of suicidal thinking. Teens who feel suicidal will not necessarily say so outright. There can be more subtle warning signs, though. A teen may not talk about killing himself directly, but may say things like, “you won’t have to worry about me much longer,” or “I wish I could sleep forever.” Behaviors to look out for include giving away personal belongings, making apologies to family members or friends, talking a lot about death, acting withdrawn from others, trying to get a large amount of pills, a gun, or razors, or becoming suddenly peaceful after a long period of depression.
  2. Remain calm. If a teen tells you that he feels suicidal, or you see the signs, your instinct may be to panic, especially if it is your own child. Suicidal teens often cite the fear of their parents’ reactions as a reason for not divulging their secrets. They fear that their parents will explode, and be unable to help them rationally.
  3. Talk about suicide. It may seem counterintuitive, but being open with a suicidal teen can actually help and make her less likely to go through with it. Being able to talk about it and be open about her feelings and her urges can bring a suicidal teen a great sense of relief.
  4. Learn about and recommend good mental health services. Knowledge is power, and if you can share resources with a suicidal teen, he may reconsider his options. There are many ways to treat a teen who feels suicidal, and to treat the underlying reasons for the feelings. Speak with a professional and do your best to convince the teen that there is help for what he is going through.
  5. Lock up medications and other harmful items. If you have a suicidal teen in your house, limit her ability to do damage by keeping anything harmful out of reach. Lock up medications, razors, knives, guns and anything else that could be used in an impulsive moment. Often, suicide attempts are an impulsive act, but if there is nothing on hand to use, the feeling may pass. If your child takes a medication, give her one dose at a time and make sure that she swallows the pills to avoid stockpiling for a suicide attempt. Keeping your house safe is not a foolproof way to prevent suicide, but it can help.
  6. Track time spent online. If your teen is using social media and other types of technology, keep track of what he is doing. Cyberbullying is a major problem among young adults these days and can be very destructive. It may seem like an invasion of privacy, but insist that you have access to your child’s accounts. Often when a teen is being bullied, he will try his best to hide it.

Teen suicide is an incredibly serious issue. Take every threat of suicide seriously and never make light of it. If a teen you know is acting suicidal and it is not your child, always inform the parents. Always push for the teen to seek professional help, and be open and ready to lend support and assistance. Just knowing one person is there to help can make all the difference.

There is still hope.

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