Dealing with Teen Suicide is a Difficult, but Pertinent Subject to Address

 

April 6, 2022



Last year, the CDC released a report that documented a 50% increase in emergency room visits for suspected suicides for girls ages 12 to 17. The numbers for boys in the same age range rose as well, but not nearly as dramatically. Gallons of newspaper ink has been spilled trying to explain this tragic spike, offering explanations and theories galore. Regardless of why it’s happening, the fear that these tragic stories strike in the hearts of parents can be paralyzing. There are so many unknowns and “what ifs”; it can easily make parents feel helpless. There are a number of helpful guides to be found online offering lists of what to look for and offering guides for talking to your kids when a peer commits suicide. Though this article is not meant to be a definitive list of what to do or look for, the following are a few pointers gleaned from various resources.

The National Institute of Mental Health’s website dedicated to warning signs of suicide offers several areas to watch. Talk of wanting to die, strong feelings of guilt or shame, or talk of how they are a burden to the people around them are all listed as warning signs. Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, being trapped, or having no reason to live are listed as warning signs as well. In addition, extreme sadness, higher anxiety, feelings of extreme agitation, or extreme anger are all mood conditions to watch for. “Unbearable emotional or physical pain” also raise suicide risk. The section of the site detailing behavior warning signs includes things like making plans or researching ways to die, withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away personal possessions, risk taking (like driving recklessly or very fast), extreme mood swings, disruption in eating and sleeping patterns (more or less of either), and increased use of alcohol or drugs. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/warning-signs-of-suicide)


The American Psychological Association website ran an article in 2019 entitled “Coping After Suicide Loss” and it offers strategies for dealing with the aftermath of these types of loss. Some of the most important points on the list involve relying on existing support systems (friends, family, church, etc.) for emotional outlet and understanding. Central to that is finding trusted people to talk to about the feelings, which helps in the healing process. Self care is especially important in times of loss, especially eating and sleeping enough. This also includes exercise and taking care to be healthy. Seeking professional help or grief support groups can also help. Most of all, dealing with feelings of sorrow, grief, despair, loneliness, anxiety, guilt, etc. requires that we acknowledge and simply accept them as real. Feelings will vary and swing from day to day (or minute to minute sometimes). It’s important to feel them and deal with them rather than hiding, ignoring, or thinking that they are somehow wrong. This is important to healing. (https://www.apa.org/topics/suicide/coping-after) The same article has several valuable points for parents on how to talk about suicide with children and are worth taking the time peruse.


The Child Mind Institute Website published an article on Supporting Children After the Suicide of a Classmate. There are a handful of good tips for dealing with this extraordinarily difficult conversation. This is another article that is worth reading through. Some of the high points of the article include speaking matter of factly about it, but avoiding too much detail regarding the method. It’s also important to talk about suicide in terms of the untreated psychiatric illness. Emotional pain is often hidden and undetectable, which makes helping very difficult. You shouldn’t avoid talking about it altogether or sensationalize it. It may be necessary to address feelings of guilt, which are common. Friends or loved ones often feel like they should have done more or they play “what if” scenarios in their minds. Part of the reason it is so common is because these tragic losses are so difficult to accept. Such things should be talked about and the intense emotions understood as natural

and common. It is especially important to talk to children who are prone to depression or with previous suicide attempts. It’s easy to try to avoid talking about it in these instances out of fear that you might make things worse. It is important to hear children out and give them space to talk. It is also especially important to take the time to emphasize your relationship and connection in these instances. Most of all, it’s important to understand that grief takes time. It is not a 2 or 3 day process and there are no shortcuts. It is important to talk and allow kids to share their feelings. This article from the Child Mind Institute is exceptional and empowering to parents who don’t know what to say or do in relation to such a difficult subject. (https://childmind.org/article/supporting-children-after-the-suicide-of-a-classmate/)

When tragedy takes place, it is easy to become paralyzed with fear or to feel helpless. The best antidote to this helplessness is equipping yourself with the tools you need to take on the challenges you are facing. The above articles are excellent resources to add tools to your parental toolbox. Take the time to peruse them and learn how to take on this difficult situation with your family.

Finally, the number for the suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-talk (8255). They provide free, 24-hour confidential emotional support for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

 
 

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