Youth suicide prevention: a call to action
Suicide is one of the most difficult issues to talk about, even though we hear about it regularly on the news or even in popular TV shows. Chances are, our kids have already heard of someone in their immediate network who has thought of or attempted suicide.
While it is hard to imagine our own children contemplating suicide or having to deal with a friend who is, they need to know what to say to a friend with suicidal behavior — and what to do — before they are confronted with the problem. Having this important conversation with your child means they are equipped, not overwhelmed, if and when the moment comes.
Discussing suicide with your child also lets them know that it is a topic they can talk to you about if they ever find themselves in the same place.
Youth suicide can be prevented. The best way to stop suicide is to get help as soon as you think you think your child may be depressed. This is called early intervention.
If you are in crisis, please also consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or the New Jersey Hopeline (1-855-654-6735).
The facts about youth suicide
- Nearly 1 in 13 high school students have tried to commit suicide*.
- One in 6 high school students have thought about it.
- Depression is a major cause of suicide attempts.
Some depression triggers for youth include:
- Being bullied.
- Stressful life event or loss.
- Summer ending.
- Going back to school.
Having the conversation with your child
Ask your teen if they have ever heard a friend say something like, "I wish I was dead" or "Life is too hard to deal with, I don't want to do it anymore." If there is a recent news story about a suicide, you can ask them outright if they have ever felt that way, or known someone who has.
Ask how it made them feel. Acknowledge that it is an uncomfortable subject, and that it is ok to talk about tough topics like suicide. All teens should know these key warning signs and helpful guidelines so they are prepared if confronted with the situation.
Many kids will not directly express a plan to commit suicide. However, if your teen has a friend who writes about death or talks about dying or the world being better off without them, it is likely a cry for help. Other signs can include making plans to give away their prized possessions. These are things that should be discussed with a trusted adult.
When a teen talks about suicide, even though it may seem like they are being dramatic or simply seeking attention, it can be very serious. It is another strong indication there are some big challenges going on in his or her life.
Tell your child to let their friends know that they feel sad because their friends are hurting, and they want to be a good friend to them. Often, a suicidal person feels completely alone and disconnected from everyone around them. Just the reminder that they have friends can be very comforting.
Suicidal thoughts can be a part of depression, and depression is treatable by a medical professional.
Don't promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret. Tell your child to help their friend identify a safe adult to share this with. If they won't tell an adult, let your child know that being a good friend means they need to let a teacher or parent know anyway.
Talking to your teen about how to help others can be empowering for them, and being non-judgmental about issues regarding the tough topics like suicide can help them feel more comfortable about being open with you about any fears they may have.
Warning signs that may show when your child is depressed
- Talking about suicide.
- Sudden change in normal behavior, like wanting to be alone.
- Sudden change in sleep pattern or eating habits.
- Acting hopeless.
- Bad temper.
- Giving away favorite items.
- Watch for a sudden positive change in mood, too. This could mean a suicide attempt is about to happen.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention*, other risk factors for suicide can include:
- History of previous suicide attempts, or a family history of suicide.
- History of depression or other behavioral health needs.
- Alcohol or drug use.
- Easy access to lethal methods, such as a firearm in the home.
- Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.
If your teenager or a friend of theirs is struggling with suicidal thoughts, early intervention is critical. Early intervention can help stop teen suicide. The sooner you step in, the better chance there is for a full recovery.
Talk to your child. Get professional help right away.
Youth suicide prevention resources
If you are involved in an immediate life-threatening emergency or any serious behavioral health problem that, if not given immediate professional attention, could lead to your child harming himself/herself, please dial 911.
If you are in crisis, help is also available from the following counseling hotlines:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
- New Jersey Hopeline: 1-855-654-6735.
Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services are based in or alongside hospital emergency rooms. Youth with an immediate danger to themselves or others should be transported to a center for screening for urgent services or inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
In addition, a list of designated crisis/screening centers by county is available on the NJ Department of Human Services (PDF) website.
PerformCare can also connect you and your child to behavioral health services through the New Jersey Children’s System of Care. Our staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year at 1-877-652-7624. This can include Mobile Response, a 24/7 service where a specially trained behavioral health professional can come to someone's home within an hour of calling to diffuse a crisis and connect families and youth to needed services.