Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 15-24 years old. It’s an issue that, as a parent, you can’t ignore.
There is no sure-fire way to detect suicidal thoughts in a child. But there are behavior patterns and warning signs that may indicate your child is having those thoughts. Learning to recognize those signs, and more importantly, knowing how to start the conversation about a crisis your child may be facing and why suicide is not the answer are the keys to keeping your child safe.
- Problems in school, especially sudden problems, such as a drop in grades, falling asleep in class, emotional outbursts, withdrawal.
- Fear of punishment or parental criticism.
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs.
- Changes in physical appearance or habits, disturbed sleeping and eating habits, depression, expressions of low self-esteem.
- Detachment from family and friends.
- Giving away personal possessions.
- Lack of interest in activities the child previously enjoyed.
- Statements of hopelessness.
- A previous attempt. This warning sign may seem obvious, but eight of ten suicide attempts involve people who have tried to kill themselves before.
- Threats or conversations about death. Seven of ten people who attempt suicide had told someone that they wished to die, saying things like, “I’d be better off dead” or “You all would be better off without me.”
It is not true that talking about suicide will give the idea to your child. In fact, not discussing your fears with your child is far riskier because they may take that as a sign that you don’t care. Here are some tips on how to talk about suicide with your child and how to let them know you are there to help:
- Don’t be afraid to ask your child directly if you suspect they are thinking about hurting themselves or feeling suicidal. When a child realizes someone understands and cares about how they are feeling, they are more likely to open up and honestly talk about what is bothering them.
- Work on having an open, honest and trusting relationship with your child so they feel supported, safe and comfortable with sharing their feelings.
- Acknowledge your child’s fear and pain.
- Listen! Do not pass judgment on their feelings or attempt to fix their problems.
- Let your child know that the problems they are experiencing are temporary, and that suicide is final.
- Monitor your child’s behavior and whereabouts and avoid leaving them alone.
- Encourage your child to get involved in group activities so they feel connected.
- Spend time together; eat meals together, go on outings and do projects.
- Express your love for your child daily.
- Validate your child’s feelings with positive messages, hugs, etc.
- Have reasonable expectations for child’s performance.
- Help your child feel in control by letting them make decisions.
- Recognize your child’s efforts, achievements and successes.
- Be interested and aware of what is going on in your child’s life.
- Discuss your child’s goals, which helps them focus on the future.
- Limit access to guns, sharp objects and medications.
- Leave the door open for conversation, even if your child denies thinking about suicide.
- Monitor your child’s behavior for warning signs.
- Don’t hesitate to get professional help from a doctor, therapist or counselor.
Talking to your child about suicide is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do as a parent. But honesty, awareness, communication and prevention are essential to identifying the possible warning signs and getting your child the help they need.