What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

Colorado has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the country. And it’s been rising. 

In fall 2019, the United Health Foundation released a report that showed that Colorado’s teen suicide rate rose 58 percent between 2016 and 2019. That’s the highest state increase in the U.S. since 2016. 

Nationwide, suicide is on the rise. It is the second most common cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24.

These numbers are alarming, and why mental health is an important part of your teen’s or adolescent’s overall health. That’s why Pediatrics West offers individual and family outpatient counseling services. We typically refer our patients to clinicians from Jefferson Center for Mental Health who works onsite in our office. 

What Parents Can Do

The adolescent and teen years can be difficult and overwhelming as your child transitions to adulthood. With hormonal and physical changes, sexual and social pressures, and emotional and intellectual development, this period can be tumultuous. It’s also a challenge for parents, but there are things the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you can do to help support your child through this period. 

Communication is Key

Keep your communication with your teenager open and honest. Regularly check in with your teen and make sure they know they can talk to you about anything. Teens with depression tend to be embarrassed and reclusive about their feelings. Don’t wait for them to seek you out for help. Instead, go to them and start the conversation. Share your own feelings and let them know they are not alone and that everyone feels sad or depressed at times.

Watch for Teen Suicide Risk Factors

There are several factors that put children and teens at higher risk of suicide. These include:

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • A family history of suicide
  • Sexual orientation
  • Depression or other psychiatric illnesses
  • Use of alcohol and other illicit substances
  • Behavior problems
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Easy access to guns or other lethal methods
  • Being a target of bullying or cyberbullying

Assume It’s Not Teenage Drama

Don’t assume your teen is just being dramatic when they threaten suicide. Take seriously any such statement, whether spoken or written, such as “I want to die” or “everyone would be better off without me.” Research shows these statements are a plea for help. When your teen makes suicidal comments, try not to react judgmentally. Instead, acknowledge your child’s feelings. And, encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts about death and suicide.

Immediately Seek Professional Help

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, contact your provider at Pediatrics West to initiate counseling services. If your child is in crisis and in immediate danger of self harm, Colorado Crisis Services can help. This free service is provided by the state and can help with mental health, substance abuse, or emotional concerns. You can call their toll free number at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. For more information, visit https://coloradocrisisservices.org.

Lock up Guns and Other Lethal Methods

If you own guns, store them safely or remove them from your home. If your teen is depressed or you suspect they may be suicidal, lock up medicines (including non-prescription drugs), long ropes/cables, alcohol, and knives. 

Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

Help your teen build a foundation of good mental health with a healthy diet, adequate sleep, exercise, and positive relationships with friends and family. Limit screen time and encourage your teen to participate in physical activities they enjoy.

Lighten Their Load

Ease some of your teen’s stress load as they receive treatment. For instance, you can lower expectations for chores at home and school performance. Also, you can contact their school about accommodations in schoolwork. Help your teen from feeling overwhelmed by supporting them through difficult problems. For example, teach them how to break up difficult tasks into smaller steps to help them be successful and build confidence.

Remind Your Teen That Treatment Takes Time

Make sure your teen understands that treatment may take weeks to feel like it’s working. Your teen may become discouraged with initial side effects if taking drugs or may not notice any changes in mood initially. Most importantly, make sure your teen is following the treatment plan, such as attending therapy and making medication as prescribed.

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