How to Safeguard Your Teen from Suicide
Suicide rates are on the rise, and the teen population is the most at risk. Recent data shows that while suicide is still highest for middle-aged men, the population of adolescent girls ages 10 to 14 showed the highest percentage increase, tripling since 1999 (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04-22/cdc-suicide-deaths-on-the-rise-among-teen-girls-and-middle-aged-men) . These statistics highlight the seriousness of suicide among teenagers, girls in particular, and the need to find ways to safeguard teens and adolescents to prevent the incidence of suicide from continuing to increase.
Reasons Why Teens Are Most at Risk
One of the main reasons teens are more susceptible to the idea of suicide as a solution can be traced back to their underdeveloped brain. We now know that the brain does not finish developing until adults reach their early 30s, which places teens at risk to engage in dangerous activities due to their inability to stop and think things through. The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal cortex- the area right behind your forehead. This part of the brain is responsible for executing functioning- reasoning, morality, thinking, and processing. Without this part of their brain fully developed, teens are not able to tap into the frontal cortex to think things through logically. The teen brain fires rapidly, and without the full functioning of the frontal cortex to tap on the brakes, teens often go through with spontaneous activities that are often dangerous, rebellious, and risky without giving them much thought or pause.
How Parents Can Intervene and Safeguard Their Teen
These facts are very frightening for parents of adolescents, and requires special attention to help teens develop methods for fighting the urge to act impulsively and begin to fire more neurons to the frontal cortex to help it continue to strengthen and develop. Sitting down with your teen and making a plan for evening homework or a schedule for evening activities is one way to force teens to slow down and practice planning (tapping into that frontal cortex).
The best way to prevent suicide with your teen is by talking to them about it. Bringing up the subject of suicide does not make teens more likely to act on suicidal thoughts- just the opposite is shown to be true. Talking to teens about suicide and the risk of self-harm can also make it less likely that teens will act impulsively in times of depression and extreme sadness. If parents have talked to teens about suicide and the dangers beforehand, teens are better able to recall negative consequences of suicide and are less likely to consider it as an option in the moment.
Don’t be afraid to use strong language. Ask your teens if they have ever thought about killing themselves or seriously hurting themselves. More often than not you will get laughter and be blown off with a quick “NO!” Other times you may save a life. Teens report feeling relieved when someone finally asks the straightforward question about suicide, and it gives them the courage to say yes if it’s true for them in the moment, which leads to help for the struggling teen and ultimately helps the whole family. You can’t solve a problem you don’t acknowledge exists.
Suicidal Thoughts Are Temporary
So you’ve had the talk with your teen, and they admit to sometimes thinking about killing or hurting themselves. What now? First, let your teen know that these thoughts are temporary and that they can overcome them with appropriate intervention and treatment. Remind your teen of other times in their life when they have overcome obstacles and improved their circumstances. Talk about your teen’s strengths and reasons for living. Often something as simple as pointing out how the family pet will miss the teen is enough to pull them out of the downward suicidal spiral.
Therapy is strongly recommended for teens struggling with suicide and the thought of hurting themselves. Therapy can help improve teens’ ability to handle stress, develop healthy coping behaviors, and improve their self-esteem and self-worth. The more capable and competent teens feel, the less likely they will resort to suicidal thoughts in the face of stress or trauma.
Know When to Seek Immediate Help
If your teen makes an outcry to you of suicidal thoughts, always take it seriously. If you have any reason to believe the teen is in immediate danger, call 911 or drive them to the nearest emergency room and ask for a psychological evaluation to determine safety. In instances like this, any parent that has lost a child will tell you it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Provide your teen with resources at their fingertips, like the Crisis Text Line (741-741, www.crisistextline.org ) which will respond to teens 24 hours a day with a trained specialist on the other end of the message.
In the event that your teen is not in immediate danger, schedule an evaluation with a therapist within the next couple days to continue to evaluate and monitor safety. A therapist will talk with your teen about safety and create a safety plan for when and if the suicidal thoughts return.
HeadFirst therapists are trained in safety evaluation and suicide assessment, and can help keep your teen safe. If you believe your teen may be at risk, contact HeadFIrst Counseling at (469) 665-9416 or visit www.headfirstdallas.com to schedule an initial psychological evaluation and intake session. You and your teen are not alone, and many teens every day overcome thoughts of suicide and go on to lead happy and fulfilled lives. The best intervention is early intervention to get your teen on the path to safety.
For more information about teen suicide, visit the following online resources:
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: http://www.sptsusa.org/
Mayo Clinic Resource for Teen Suicide: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teen-suicide/art-20044308
Reach Out: http://us.reachout.com