Teen suicide was not something I thought I’d ever have to worry about. My kids grew into well-adjusted, happy teens and although it started to get close to home when there were two suicides in my kids’ high school, I didn’t think my kids would ever contemplate it.
I was wrong.
When my daughter was 15, I got a phone call from a mom of one of her good friends, who also happened to be a close friend of mine. She said, “Janis, if I was you, I’d want to know this–my daughter told me that your daughter has been talking about wanting to end her life.”
I was stunned and horrified. My kids were happy and well-adjusted. Our home was a happy home–could this be true?
That very day my daughter came home from school upset, and when I went looking for her, I found that she’d climbed out of a window of our split level home and was sitting on the roof. As soon as I saw her there, I too, climbed out the window and gingerly made my way to sit down beside her.
We talked about what was bothering her, about friendship problems, about suicide. I did a lot of listening and asked some questions to find out what she was really thinking and how serious she was about suicide. It was a hard, but good conversation and we both left it feeling better.
Would she have ever gone through with it if we hadn’t talked? I’d like to say no, but kids have a way of fooling you, hiding away their despair until they feel they are out of options. Not all suicidal teens are locked away in their rooms; some of them are working hard to cover up their despair and not let anyone know. But sooner or later, some signs should slip through the protective veneer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the factors that contribute to teens feeling suicidal:
- Having a psychiatric disorder, including depression
- Loss of or conflict with close friends or family members
- History of physical or sexual abuse or exposure to violence
- Problems with alcohol or drugs
- Physical or medical issues, for example, becoming pregnant or having a sexually transmitted infection
- Being the victim of bullying
- Being uncertain of sexual orientation
- Exposure to the suicide of a family member or friend
- Being adopted
- Family history of mood disorder or suicidal behavior
And I would add to that list, feelings of despair that come from anything from friendship problems to rejection to feeling extreme pressure.
You may think your kids are happy, secure, and well-adjusted, but please be aware of the signs; you should not take them lightly. If you see any of these indicators, don’t just brush them off as being hormonal or assume that your child is acting like a normal volatile teen.
Warning signs of teen suicide include:
- Talking or writing about suicide — saying things like, “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”
- Drinking more or using drugs
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Changing eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing self-destructive things
- Giving away their belongings for no reason
- Showing personality changes like anxiousness or agitation, combined with some of the other signs
It’s easy for parents to dismiss unusual teen behavior because “kids will be kids”, but if you see any of these warning signs, don’t let them just slide. Pay attention and have those hard conversations. If you feel you are over-reacting, it’s okay. Better to get ahead of the problem, find out what’s really going on, and get help if it’s needed, than to live with painful regrets.
If you are worried about your child, and want to talk, I’m a certified parenting coach. Please schedule a free phone call here.