We are facing a mental health crisis among adolescents, help for troubled teens struggling with suicidal thoughts has been rising since 2019. Since 2020 teen depression and anxiety has doubled, with many experts pointing to excess screen-time as a big part of the problem.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 according to several studies and reports including the CDC. How can parents help their troubled teen and better understand the warning signs?
There can be many causes for suicidal thoughts and depression with teens. Untreated depression and anxiety or drug misuse should always be taken seriously since these can lead to suicidal ideation — as well as stress factors including social difficulties, academic pressures and other concerns teens might be facing.
Other warning signs of teen suicidal thoughts:
- Giving away personal things
- Mood swings (more than normal)
- Change in routine
- Risky behavior
- Talking about suicide, threatening suicide
- Substance use (drugs or drinking)
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Isolating themselves
Strategies to help your troubled teenager:
What can you say to your teen that has suicidal thoughts? If you suspect your teen is considering suicide, talk about it immediately — take this seriously. Do not risk dismissing it as teenage drama or looking for attention. Talking about suicide doesn’t put suicidal ideas in their head — that is a myth. Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication.
How to help your teen start talking:
- Ask your teen to share if there a specific incident or event that led to having their suicidal thoughts? Ask a question such as, “What happened? I want to know; it might help to talk about it.”
- Encourage your teen to describe what they are feeling. You may want to say something like, “I had no idea things were so bad for you, please talk to me about what is going on.”
- Do not diminish your teen’s feelings. Avoid saying things that can be perceived as careless or unhelpful (without realizing it), such as, “You should appreciate all you have in life, do you know how lucky you are?” or “I think you’re overreacting.” Both of these statements or comments like these can downplay your teen’s pain.
- Be compassionate. Listen without verbalizing judgment or disagreeing with their statement, as much as having empathy and compassion for what they are feeling.
Moving forward helping your troubled teen:
Giving your troubled teen the emotional support is crucial in moving forward. After gaining a better understanding of their struggles, you will be able to determine what your teen needs.
- Let your teen know you will do everything possible to keep them from committing suicide.
- Explain that you understand your teen feels miserable. You realize that they feel like there is no way out.
- Gently point out that suicide is not a solution. Try saying something such as, “I know there are options that could help, I’d like you to at least try them.”
- Let your teen know you are worried. Don’t downplay your concern about their well-being.
- Promise your teen you will be there for them. You will do whatever it takes to get them through this difficult time. They are not alone.
- Remind your teen of your unconditional love.
Help for troubled teens can start with seeing an adolescent therapist. In some situations, your teen may feel more comfortable opening up to a neutral person or in other cases the teen refuses to seek counseling. If your teen is having suicidal thoughts it is imperative to get help. Reach out to the Crisis Lifeline at 988.
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