September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but it is a topic that should be discussed year-round, especially when it comes to how to address youth suicide.
Oftentimes, we find it hard to talk about suicide with teens and tweens, and this health observance is a way to counteract that, so young people can realize that they are not alone and that help is out there. It is also an opportune time to get informed about resources that are available for adults to talk with teens about suicidal thoughts and behaviors. With more open communication, and armed with strategies for addressing youth suicide, the goal is to make an impact on the suicide rates among this age group: During 2016, 7.4% of students in ninth through 12 grades made at least one attempt at suicide, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey.
Know the Warning Signs
The first step is to understand the typical signs of suicidal ideation so you can properly identify if your teen or tween is in need of intervention. If you notice any of the following behaviors, it may be time for a compassionate and frank talk about what is going on in the youth’s life and how you can help.
- Heightened aggression or irritability
- Mood swings that encompass intense highs and lows
- Either too much sleep or too little
- Indulgence in risky, impulsive behaviors, such as drug or alcohol use
- Loss of interest in hobbies, school work, or friendships
- Expressions of hopelessness or profound sadness
- Mentions of suicide
If you see these signs in a young person you know, it can be scary and you may be unsure of how to respond. That’s why you should be prepared and know some ways of how to address youth suicide with a teen or tween. There are several different approaches you can take, depending on which one would best fit your teen and the relationship you two have.
Strategies for Addressing Youth Suicide
- Make yourself available.
Sometimes what a teen needs most is to feel understood and listened to without judgment. If you see those signs that could be signals of impending suicidal action, ask your teen how he or she is doing and if they are considering making an attempt to take their own life. Bringing their feelings out into the light, and feeling loved and accepted, can be a good first step for a teen to combat the suicidal ideation.
- Address the risk.
Therapy can be vital in helping a teen cope with suicidal thoughts. The immediate goal is to look at the likelihood of a suicide attempt and address it in order to prevent that from happening. A trained therapist can then help the young person come up with a prevention plan that includes knowing and coping with triggers, focusing on the positive aspects of their life, and making sure the teen has resources in case of an emergency, including the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255). With that plan in place, the therapist and teen can move on to work on the issues underlying the suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
- It takes a village.
Helping a suicidal teen can be a big job and it can require all hands on deck. Schools can be a rich resource for tools and support when it comes to how to address youth suicide. Also, school personnel such as counselors or teachers should have the expertise to notice suicide warning signs. Support and encouragement can also be found through youth sports organizations, extended family members, and youth-oriented community programs, among others. With a strong support network, more adults can keep an eye out for suicide warning signs and teens are less likely to slip through the cracks.
- Build up your teen.
You can show a young person you care about them by becoming invested in their life. Make sure they have the connections they need to bring about positive change: a therapist, yes, but also friends who can offer peer support, trusted adults, and religious or cultural leaders who can help reinforce beliefs and principles that can offer a firm foundation moving forward. Make sure they have necessary medical treatments, as well as the tools they need to enrich their mental and emotional health. Those can include self-esteem building exercises, coping mechanisms, and the capability to solve problems and communicate. Make sure the young person is plugged into groups and activities that are encouraging and beneficial, such as a volunteer program.
- Don’t hesitate to take action if danger is imminent.
If you know a young person who is talking about plans to commit suicide, has started to give away their possessions, or has obtained a weapon, pills, or other tools that could be used in a suicide attempt, do not wait another moment. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak to qualified crisis workers and do not let the teen be alone. If a crisis is near, call 911 immediately.
Taking action by implementing one of the strategies for addressing youth suicide can be the difference between life and death. Young people in pain and despair don’t have to feel alone if you come alongside them and help them to find hope for a better future.