September is suicide awareness month. Many parents of teenagers ask me, if their child could be suicidal and what to do if their child is suicidal? I have been getting this question even more now that the pandemic has lasted so long. As a result of teenagers and children having to stay in the house for so long and not being able to see friends and now just starting to return to school, many teenagers are feeling isolated and lonely. Suicidal feeling have been increasing for teenagers for several years. As a result, the CDC has increased suicide from the the third leading cause of death to the second leading cause of death for kids 10 to 18 years old. As I stated, since the quarantine and pandemic has occurred, there has been an increase in suicides and deaths from drug overdoses. A recent study by the CDC has found that during the pandemic, the idea of suicide for teenagers has increased. Currently, 1 out of 4 teenagers have been having suicidal thoughts (CDC). Also for adults, suicidal ideations have increased by 11%. As a result, parents are worrying more about if their teenager may be feeling suicidal. Additionally, before the quarantine and pandemic, parents were had already started worrying about their teenager being suicidal because a study by the CDC indicated that survivors of mass shootings were more likely to attempt suicide. The issue of suicide is very scary especially because we do not discuss mental health issues in our society. As a result, parents are not sure what signs they should be looking for or what to do if they think their teen is suicidal. This creates a great deal of anxiety for parents because we were discussing there is an epidemic rate of teenage suicide, and since the pandemic has lasted so long, the number of teenagers thinking about suicide has increased significantly (CDC). Parents have been isolated due to the pandemic so besides the fact they are dealing with their own feelings of isolation and fatigue, they are faced with trying to decide what is the best thing to do for their teenager.
A successful suicide attempt is definitely a tragedy for the entire family. However, an unsuccessful attempt can be a major tragedy for the teen and the family too. Depending on the method used, a child who has an unsuccessful attempt may have to live their entire life with major medical complications. They can cause brain damage which may cause them to lose the ability to speak or the ability to breath on their own. Therefore, they may spend the rest of their life on a ventilator. Guns are one of the top three ways teenagers attempt suicide. However, teenagers are not aware that guns jump when fired. Many teens who use a gun do not kill themselves, but they do shoot off their face. The result is they have to have numerous surgeries to reconstruct their face, but their face and life are never the same. Some teenagers may need a face transplant which is a new technique surgeons have as an option.
I read this very good article describing what to do if you think your child is suicidal. It provides the steps you need to take in a non-threatening manner. It also addresses issues parents often may not think about, if they are concerned about their child being suicidal. The most important step is don’t be afraid to ask your child if they are feeling suicidal. It is a myth that if you ask someone if they are suicidal that you will cause them to become suicidal. In fact, you may save their life by asking them if they are suicidal. By asking you let them know it’s ok to talk about their feelings. Also by asking you reassure them there is nothing wrong with them and that you are emotionally strong enough to cope with the situation. Therefore, you may save their life by asking, if they are feeling suicidal.
Another reason many parents do not ask their teenager about suicide is the negative stigma associated with suicide. Often when someone dies of suicide the family will give another reason. Many families also request suicide not be listed as the cause of death. The Lighthouse Project conducted at Columbia University is attempting to remove this stigma. The Project has also developed questions that family members, friends and first responders can ask a person who they think might be suicidal. The questions have shown to be very effective at identifying someone who is suicidal and having the person to get help. I am including the link to the Lighthouse Project so you can learn more about it and download the questions that are most appreciated for you, if you feel someone in your life maybe suicidal. http://cssrs.columbia.edu/. It is a very good list of questions and the research shows that the questions are very effective at identifying someone who is suicidal. I have looked at the study and questions and I highly recommend the Lighthouse Project.
I have included the link to this article and I encourage parents to read it and to save it. What to Do if You’re Worried About Suicide |. https://childmind.org/article/youre-worried-suicide/#.W9PRyfwKel8.twitter. It provides you with symptoms and signs to watch for in teenagers. It also helps you talk to your teen about their feelings and opinions you can use for help. The bottom line, if you feel your teenager is suicidal do not be embarrassed. Remember today’s teenagers have had to deal with a lot over the past couple of years. They had to worry about being shot at school by a mass shooter, bullying has significantly increased so has the pressure to succeed and now they have had to cope with 4 months of being quarantined, their school was abruptly closed and now many are having to return to school remotely. They are all saying the same thing to me, when do I get to see me friends and when will life return to normal. Since many are now feeling life will never be normal, they are feeling suicidal. We need to be there for them and help them through these very confusing times. These times are confusing for adults imagine how they are for teenagers and children. So if you teen or child seem depressed or are talking an suicide make an appointment to have your teen evaluated by a psychotherapist who specializes in suicidal teenagers. If you walk in on a teenager attempting suicide, call 911 immediately.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating suicidal children and teenagers. For more information on his work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or Facebook page www.facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcast Understanding Today’s Teenagers on Spotify or Apple.