According to nationwide studies, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24. The University of Delaware in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that almost 8% of Delaware high school students have reported making a suicide attempt in the past 12 months and almost 14% of high school students have reported having serious thoughts of suicide in the last 12 months. Of the middle school students surveyed, 14% reported having attempted suicide and 22% reported having seriously thought about ending their lives. The issue of suicide among children and teenagers is becoming an ever-increasing concern for parents, educators, and mental health professionals. How can parents understand and respond to the signs and symptoms of youth suicide?
The first thing parents need to understand is that talking about suicide will not plant the idea in someone’s mind. In fact, many people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts are afraid to bring up the subject of suicide. Often young people do not know how to talk about suicidal thoughts, but have reported to feeling relieved when asked directly if they are thinking about ending their lives. Therefore, it is important for parents to initiate conversations about suicide with children on a regular basis. These open “table talk” discussions about this issue conveys that parents are safe for their kids and help them know their parents care and are willing to help them.
In addition to talking to young people about suicide, parents should be familiar with the warning signs of suicide. Parents should remember to pay special attention to feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, and worthlessness. They should also be on the lookout for any changes in personality or behavior, as well as any difference in sleeping or eating habits. When a child is not acting like himself, parents should talk to him about the changes they have observed and should express their concerns in a calm, non-judgmental way. Parents should be aware that situations that seem overwhelming to a young person, such as a move or break-up, can also contribute to suicidal thoughts or feelings.
The most important thing parents can do is keep lines of communication open with their children and know they are there for support. If parents have reason to believe their child may be at risk for suicide, they can call Delaware’s suicide help line at 1-800-969-HELP (4357), a mental health professional and/or physician for a safety assessment, or go to a hospital for an evaluation. Parents’ awareness of the signs and symptoms of suicide as well as other risk factors for their children can be one of the most effective preventative measures.