Suicide is often stigmatized and clouded with misguided judgment — and it shouldn’t be that way. The world observes the 10th of September as World Suicide Prevention Day. This is because suicide is preventable, especially if there is enough awareness among people. Knowing the risk factors associated with suicide and what can be done to prevent it can go a long way to stopping someone from taking this painful step.
Children spend a great deal of time with their parents. They are also prone to bullying and other stressful experiences in their social settings. So, it is essential for you as parents to be aware of what you can do to prevent your child from deciding to end their life. No one is immune to suicide, but some of us are at a greater risk than others. If you think your child belongs to the latter, they may be desperately seeking your care and support. Let’s look at a few measures parents can take to help prevent teenage suicide.
1. Don’t Discount Threats As Teenage Drama
Teenagers can be dramatic and over the top at times. But when they throw a suicide threat don’t shrug it off or ignore it. When a teenager expresses directly or indirectly that they don’t care about living anymore, it is something parents should take seriously. It has been observed for many suicide cases that teenagers make threats and statements about suicide in the days leading up to them committing suicide. If the situation is too heated, wait for them to cool down a little, while keeping a watchful eye on them. Once they are ready for a proper discussion, try to understand and empathize with them. Try to get them to trust you and be in their confidence. They could be holding back trauma and sadness and sharing it with someone close can really help them in their tough moments (1).
2. Address Red Flags Right Away, Don’t Let It Snowball
We all have bad days, and the same holds true for your child too. But if you’ve been noticing that your child seems to be suffering a string of bad days, then you might want to look into it. In some cases, a dip in mental health could also pave the way to suicide, so watch out for the symptoms. Let’s take depression, for example. Some of the symptoms include loss of appetite, lack of interest in things that they once enjoyed doing, social withdrawal, excessive sleep (or the lack of it), outbursts of anger, or constant crying (2), (3), (4).
Depression and mental health issues are closely associated with suicide in teenagers. So parents would have to be observant about these symptoms. If they notice behavior that points towards depression or mental struggles, it would be prudent to take immediate action and help from experts (5).
3. Listen, Even When They Don’t Say Anything
Your child doesn’t really have a lot of inhibitions at home. This makes it easier for them to cry out for help in their safe haven without even being aware that they are doing so. For example, your child might be suffering from anxiety. The chances are that they don’t even know that they are dealing with it. However, they may say certain things that could be an indication of their suffering. It could be something as simple as watching a television show about a character who has anxiety. They may say things like, “I know how that hurts”. Or, they may completely avoid a difficult situation they struggle to face. Keep a close watch so that you pick on these hints that they drop along the way.
4. Share Your Pains And Feelings Too
More often than not, sadness and pain are also accompanied by loneliness. Teenagers and children who go through intense feelings of sadness or an inclination to suicide feel misunderstood. It may help if you talk about personal stories when the suffering was too much to handle. The idea is not to minimize the pain, anguish, and distress they are going through but to let them know that help is here and this too shall pass. Also, talk about suicide. Don’t treat it like a taboo. Talk about mental health too — it’s important for you to bring this up instead of waiting for your child to take the first step. When you share the hard things you had to face in life with your child they would develop a perspective that could help them better deal with their own struggles.
5. Validate Their Emotions And Feelings
As adults, we often feel like our kids don’t really have problems of their own. So, we minimize their cries for help. We label them as dramatic or even manipulative. We tend to say things like “everyone has a hard time”, and “stop overreacting”, or “get over it, you’re being troublesome”.
Saying things like these will only make things worse. Instead, make an effort to validate their emotions and feelings. Tell them that you’re listening to them and that they are not a burden. Show them that you know they’re struggling, but you’re in it with them, and you will help them come out of it too.
6. Seek Professional Help
Parents often refrain from seeking professional help. One reason is that they are in denial that their child is dealing with a mental crisis. Another reason is the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues. However, it is of utmost importance that you seek professional assistance if you notice that your child is struggling.
Discussing suicide can make many people uncomfortable, but it is essential to accept that it is a reality that many people face. It can break your heart to even think that your child could be contemplating suicide, but this can be undone if you intervene the right way. Be there for your child, and seek the intervention of an expert. Do you know of any other measures that could help? Share it with us in the comments section below!
- Epidemiology of Youth Suicide and Suicidal Behavior
- Approach to adolescent suicide prevention
- Depression In Children
- Suicide and Youth: Risk Factors
- Mental Health Problems and Risk of Suicidal Ideation and Attempts in Adolescents