Things Parents Should Know About Teen Suicide

Most parents seem to talk to teens about sex, college, money – but to bring up suicide is taboo. Understandably, there is a certain reluctance on the part of parents to broach this hideous topic, but parents need to know that the more it is openly spoken about, the less taboo it is. Refraining from talking about the subject is not going to create suicidal thoughts in someone who doesn’t already have them. This has been established in research multiple times. A person who doesn’t feel like ending their life is the ultimate solution, will not change their mind about suicide either. In fact, in some cases, it would raise an even greater awareness about suicide.  The word is not taboo!

The circle is indispensable. One of the best tactics to detect suicidal tendencies is to make friends with your child’s friends. Get to know their circles. Invite them over. Organize get-togethers. 90% of the time I find a child who is suicidal, it’s because a friend of the child has tipped me (or another adult, who then calls me) off. Often, the suicidal child is making statements on social media that are scaring their friends. But again, these kids are more likely to come to you if they know they can approach you. These tips can save lives!

The role of schools is not to be taken lightly. It’s not a myth that the teen brain undergoes real changes in the brain during this time. One of the most important considerations for schools would be a later start time in the morning. This could also be one of the easiest adjustments to make. 

Teenagers require significantly more sleep than adults during this growth phase. There is a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and suicide in sleep-deprived teenagers.

Even though it may seem eerie to equip schools with suicide-prevention experts, schools need to build better systems for imparting coping skills to kids.

Schools need to institute a better screening method for suicidal tendencies among children, encouraging schools to build a conscious effort around preventing stress and competition around academic performance.

Parents can certainly help. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, revel in your child’s failure. Make your child’s failures as important as their successes, as this will shift the focus to the effort rather than on the results. As several studies have pointed out, cultivating this “growth mindset” is the key to building the cornerstone quality of resilience – especially for children at a fragile point in their lives.

Another huge factor is the stigma around mental health. If a teenager broke his or her leg, he would have no issue going to a hospital and getting treatment for the fracture. Symptoms of depression are not treated the same way. Teaching kids about mental health and symptoms and normalizing treatment the same way as for physical symptoms is the key to their telling their family or friends about their painful emotions.

One of the ways to do this is to have a strategic plan for how to handle substance abuse, bullying, and depression. Having a licensed therapist associated with the schools to consult on these issues regularly will help. A curriculum invested in teaching students basic emotion-regulation skills is also a must-have.

Identify the role of society

To be sure, a society whose children want to kill themselves needs a lot of work. Even a small shift towards the positive can yield big results.  

Perhaps (devoting) a segment on the daily news to local school activities and children’s contributions – as we do to professional sports teams or the local politics – will make me watch the news again! Giving responsibility to kids significantly reduces their risk of depression.

And let’s not underestimate this statistic: “Guns are used in approximately half the suicides.”

Guns definitely should not be in the hands of kids.

In a culture where nearly every other cause of death warrants a headline, somehow the disturbing phenomenon of young adults killing themselves is relegated to the back pages or goes unreported. The time for us to pay close attention to the emotional health of our society is now.

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