Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out how your child really feels. What can be even more challenging is to know if they could be suicidal.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 5 to 18, and it is at an all-time high among middle schoolers ages 10-14, surpassing car crashes as the leading cause of death. Recently in the news, reports have shown that children even younger have died by suicide.
As a parent, it's important to know the warning signs for suicide as well as how you can help your child.
1. Pay attention to your child's mood. We all have bad days, but if you child seems to be consistently down, don't wait for them to come to you. Reach out and start a conversation about how they are feeling. Assure them that you will always be there for them to listen to their issues.
2. Be aware of risk factors. These include:
- Recently going through a major loss or breakup.
- Using or abusing drugs or alcohol.
- Being bullied, either at school or online.
- Having a family history of suicide.
3. Recognize the warning signs. Watch if your teen displays any of the following red flags:
- Acts anxious or agitated.
- Behaves recklessly.
- Experiences changes in mood, diet or sleeping patterns.
- Becomes socially isolated.
- Starts to perform poorly in school.
- Gives away belongings.
- Dramatically changes their appearance.
- Expresses a sense of guilt, shame or rejection.
4. Take threats seriously. Don't shrug off mentions of suicide as run-of-the-mill teenage melodrama. Listen for statements like these:
- "Nothing matters."
- "I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up."
- "Everyone would be better off without me."
5. Seek professional help. Set up an appointment with a mental health provider who specializes in the needs of children. Go to your nearest emergency department if your child is in immediate danger of self-harm.
You can also share these resources that offer additional support:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
- National Institute of Mental Health: 866-615-6464 or visit www.nimh.nih.gov.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-6264 or visit www.nami.org.
- Mental Health America: 800-969-6642 or visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net.
6. Remind your child not to expect immediate results. Therapy and medication can take time to have an effect, so don't let your child get discouraged if they don't feel better right away.
7. Remove or lock up dangerous objects and substances, such as firearms, razors, knives and medications. Having a firearm at home, even with no other risk factors, increases suicide risk fivefold.