Every year, over 700,000 people (i.e., 1 person every 40 seconds) commit suicide. Suicide has become a serious public health problem across the globe, but hopefully, it can be prevented. It’s imperative that parents can recognize the subtle warning signs and learn effective strategies for suicide prevention.
Statistics on suicide
National Vital Statistics reports show that the suicide rate among 10-24-year-olds in the United States has increased by 57.4%, or from 6.8 per 100,000 in 2007 to 10.7 in 2018.
Additionally, a youth risk behavior survey conducted by the CDC revealed that the prevalence of serious suicidal thoughts in grade 9-12 students was higher in female students (24.1%) as compared to male students (13.3%). Meanwhile, 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
Adolescent suicidal thoughts
Suicidal ideation is the umbrella term describing a spectrum of thoughts and behaviors associated with suicide, including thoughts, urges, plans, intent, and attempts.
Suicidal thought refers to the thought of wanting to die, no longer being alive, or killing oneself.
A suicide plan is a set of steps someone has identified to end their life, usually including identification of a method or means.
Suicidal intent is the desire to act on thoughts of suicide.
Suicidal behavior is an action intended to harm oneself and includes suicidal gestures, suicide attempts, and completed suicide.
A suicide attempt is an act of self-harm that’s potentially injurious and could result in death, such as drowning or hanging.
What causes suicidal thoughts in children and teenagers?
Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are the greatest predictors of suicide. Multiple factors can contribute to increased suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents.
These factors can range from failure in schools and break up with a partner to losing someone close to them. The personal attributes of a child also play an important role in their developing suicidal thoughts.
Children who are more resilient and optimistic are less likely to consider suicide as a solution to their problems.
Risk factors for suicide
Suicide in kids can follow stressful life events. However, stressful events rarely lead children to suicidal behavior unless there are other underlying problems.
Here are some common risk factors that can lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in children and adolescents:
- A psychiatric disorder, such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Chronic or severe physical illness (e.g., cancer or HIV)
- A recent traumatic experience such as the death of a dear one or separation of parents.
- History of abuse in childhood, including sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse.
- History of drug abuse
- Family conflicts and a disturbed home environment
- Exposure to the suicide of a friend, family member, or famous personality
- Sexual orientation (bisexual or homosexual)
- Emotional, social, and economic problems after a disaster.
- Experiences of failure at school
- Being bullied in school or a victim of cyberbullying
- History of attempting suicide in past
- Family history of suicide (parents or other family member took their own life)
- Coming from a broken family or being adopted
- Access to firearms, medicines, or poisonous substances
Warning signs of suicide in children and teens
Sometimes, parents and caregivers fail to notice the subtle signs of suicide. As a parent, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your child’s behavior patterns and routine.
Here are some warning signs your child may be considering suicide:
- Talking about death or showing it in art work
- Giving away treasured personal belongings
- Taking risks with life
- Extreme sadness and pessimistic thinking
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Increased aggression and irritability
- Sleep disturbances (sleeplessness or oversleeping)
- Disturbed appetite
- Frequent complaints of stomach pain, headache, and physical discomfort
- Poor performance at school and frequent absences
- Carelessness about personal appearance
- Drug abuse
- Running away from home
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Frequent questions about or looking up ways to die
- Spending too much time on social media (the internet can fuel a teen’s interest in seeking out ways to self-harm)
- Losing interest in treatment, medication, or skipping doctor’s appointments
Things parents can do to prevent suicide
If you observe a change in the routine and behavior of your child, you should respond proactively. There are a few measures you can take as a parent to help your child and prevent suicide.
1. Don’t wait but reach out to the child
If you feel that your child is displaying some warning signs for suicide, reach out to them immediately. If you listen with openness and give reassurance, it’s most likely that the child will share their feelings.
Communicating feelings is the first step to self-awareness and reflection. Your empathetic active listening will help the teen in breaking the vicious circle of despair, hopelessness, and loneliness.
2. Make mental health a priority
Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are common risk factors leading to suicide attempts. If your child displays signs of depression, anxiety, or oppositional defiant disorder, take immediate action. Make sure they are getting the required professional support.
Keep in touch with your teen’s doctor to ensure that no appointments are missed, prescribed medicines are taken on time, and therapy sessions are being attended according to schedule.
3. Physical exercise
We all know that exercise is beneficial for physical and mental health. It has also been found to play a role in significantly reducing feelings of distress and the desire to self-harm.
Research conducted on university students indicated that those who never exercised were approximately 2 to 2.5 more likely to have a history of self-harm and suicide attempts as compared to those who exercised daily.
Try to make sports and physical exercise a part of your household routine to improve the physical and mental health of your family.
4. Family and peer support
Always remember that the mind is a dangerous neighborhood and living there alone can be really unsafe for someone under stress. Isolation and social withdrawal can add to negative thoughts and self-harm.
Don’t leave your child alone in a time of distress. Discourage isolation and provide unconditional positive support, making sure that your child is surrounded by caring family members and supporting peers.
If your teen finds it hard to open up to an adult about their fears and anxiety, access to a peer support program might help.
5. Keep firearms and medicines out of reach
Access to lethal means, such as firearms and poisonous substances, can be extremely dangerous for children and adolescents with suicidal ideation. Deadly firearms, jumping from heights, and suffocation provide very little room for rescue and considerably increase the chances of fatality in suicide attempts.
As parents, you should be extra cautious with storing medicines, firearms, poisonous substances, and ropes, among others. If you suspect that your child is facing psychological problems or having suicidal thoughts, be very careful and don’t let them go alone to places where jumping from a height or drowning is a possibility.
6. Keep an eye on social media use
Social media can expose your teen to cyberbullying, mean comments, trolling, peer pressure, and rumors. They might also get fascinated by controversial social media influencers and try to follow them. Keep an eye on your child’s social media activities.
If you feel that your children are under stress because of social media, make sure you are available for discussion. Be open and nonjudgmental so they can openly discuss their stress and anxiety with you.
7. Seek help
There are different online forums and resources offering guidance on suicide prevention. You can visit these sites for more information on the issue: