24 Apr Finding Help for Suicidal Teens On the Edge
The suicide rate among teenagers has more than doubled in the past decade and is not showing signs of slowing down. While many parents are concerned that their children could become statistics, a recent study in the journal Pediatrics reported that fifty percent of parents were unaware of adolescents’ thoughts of killing themselves, and 75.6% of parents were unaware of adolescents’ recurrent thoughts of death. Finding help for your suicidal teen can be hard if they are not waving red flags in your face. Early intervention is critical for ensuring their safety and encouraging open communication about negative emotions.
Identifying Risk for Suicidal Plans
Suicidal ideation refers to having thoughts about suicide or planning suicide. These thoughts and plans can be fleeting or extremely detailed. While frequent suicidal ideation puts teens at a greater risk of attempting suicide, hopelessness and preoccupation with death are not always associated with creating a plan. Teenagers develop the emotional areas in their brain before their strategic decision-making capabilities become useful. The disconnect between areas of their brain results in intense emotional experiences and increased impulsivity that can lead to increased suicidal ideation, whether or not it is attached to a plan.
Idealizing Suicidal Ideation
Teens contemplating suicide often feel hopeless, out of control and unable to cope with their emotions, as they have not developed skills for emotion regulation. They are more likely to have an egocentric worldview and struggle with seeing things from other people’s perspectives or imagining a future where they feel differently. Most teenagers may claim they don’t want to die, they just want the emotional pain they’re feeling to end or to escape the situations that they are in. They do not see another way out. However, they are less likely to think about the potential consequences. They believe their attempts will be successful and assume that no one they have left behind will notice or care. While it is difficult to encourage them to talk about their feelings when they are in a place of crisis, it is important to validate their experience and remind them that suicide is not a realistic solution to their problems, even if it may seem easier in the moment.
How to Talk to your Suicidal Teen
Encourage your teen to describe what they’re feeling. While they may be less likely to admit they are having suicidal thoughts, they may feel comfortable talking about other negative emotions contributing to their hopelessness or situations that have triggered suicidal thoughts.
Do not jump to their rescue. Validate how they’re feeling as a response to stressors they’re experiencing. Take their concerns seriously. Do not freak out and dive in to save them. Realize that it is not your fault for not doing enough, but that it is not theirs either that they are feeling this way. You cannot take their emotional pain from them and hold onto it.
Show unconditional love. They may be struggling with understanding the support that is available to them. While your love cannot save them, it can create a safety net. Be accepting, vulnerable, and available to listen.
Ask if they have a plan. Their safety comes first. Ask what you can do to help, either by listening, hiding sharp objects, monitoring their medication, or looking into treatment programs that are better equipped to keep them safe.
ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center for suicidal teenagers ages 12 to 17. Our students struggle with emotional and behavioral issues, such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, and substance abuse that puts them at a higher risk of suicidal ideation. ViewPoint teaches students to talk about suicidal ideation, reach out for support, use positive alternative coping skills and create realistic short-term goals to help them plan for healthy, productive lives.