Teen Suicide And Suicide Prevention: Advice For Parents
Unfortunately, alarmingly high rates of Irish people are at risk of suicide. For parents, in particular parents of teenagers, it can be a real cause of worry and uncertainty for their mental health and wellbeing.
Mary Kate Hickey spoke with Marguerite Kiely, Clinical Director at Pieta House, to discuss what parents need to know about depression and suicide prevention for their children.
Keep an eye out
It can become harder for parents to know what their child is thinking and feeling during these tumultuous years of adolescence. It can be even harder to distinguish when normal ups and downs can transform into something more worrisome.
“Parents need to recognise that they are good parents despite this, and that they haven’t done anything wrong, the years of adolescence can be tough and hard to get to grips with,” explains Marguerite Kiely.
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In this social media age, it can be hard to monitor who they are talking to, what they are talking about and what they are watching online. Parents should go easy on themselves, keep a watchful eye out for changes in their child’s behaviour and mood.
There is no definitive guide to parenting children suffering from mental health issues, or suicidal ideation. But there are a few ways to identify if, and help your child, when they are experiencing these negative thoughts and emotions.
Suicide rarely, if ever at all, comes down to one specific cause or reason, however some of the warning signs include:
- Self-harm or self-harming behaviours
- Talking about death or suicide, using language like “I don’t want to be here” and “I want to die”
- Isolating self from peers
- Sudden mood or behavioural changes
- Researching methods of suicide on the internet
- Loss of interest in friends, hobbies or activities previously enjoyed
- Withdrawing from social media and other social interactions
- Giving away precious possessions, or saying ‘final’ goodbyes
- Consistent sleep changes/disturbed sleep
There is usually more than one factor happening in a person’s life when they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, this can include going through or suffering from one or more of the following factors:
- Mental Illness
- Substance abuse
- Major loss (relationship break-up, or the death of a close friend or family member)
- Bullying or peer pressure
- Family stress or violence
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Easy access to means of self-harm
- Sexual orientation and identify confusion
- Chronic medical conditions or severe chronic pain
If you’re worried about your child, act on it, don’t ignore it. It may not always be easy to do, but there a few things you can do to help.
How can I help?
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1. Listen to them
If your child is willing to talk with you about their thoughts and feelings, listen carefully to them. Don’t dismiss or ignore their feelings. During adolescence, feelings and emotions can be felt stronger, and can feel scary and difficult to deal with. Acknowledge and validate their feelings, and make sure they know that you are there to support them through everything. Reassure them that you love and care about them, and that you will work through these emotions together.
Even if your child won’t talk about their feelings with you, listen to them through their actions. “Parents should follow their instinct and look out for consistency in agitated and low moods, remember early intervention is key to recovery,” says Marguerite.
Often children and teenagers, who are at risk of suicide, give off tips about their thoughts through their actions, body language and changes in behaviour and attitude. If you get the feeling that your child may be at risk of suicide, try talking with them about it, or seek professional help for advice.
2. Show interest
Showing that you are interested in their life, and that you care about what is going on with them, can help form a strong bond between you and your child. Studies found that one common trait of families affected by a son’s or daughter’s suicide was poor communication between parents and at risk children.
“Keep open communication with your child and subtly ask them how they are feeling or that you have noticed they haven’t been acting like themselves lately. Timing is important, talk somewhere in a one to one environment away from the home; in the car or in a café over some hot chocolate could work,” suggests Marguerite.
Helping them to trace their emotions to a situation or event that is the cause of it may help to ease the overwhelming nature of their emotions.
Help your child to focus on their positive attributes, and offer optimistic outlooks to a situation that is bothering them. Young people can sometimes get hit hard by the wave of emotions and hormones that adolescence brings and find them being swamped with negative thoughts of their situation. Offer guidance, support and try to find the good in bad circumstances.
“Always let your child know you are open to them coming to you to talk about what’s bothering them, and make it as calm of an experience as possible,” says Marguerite. “Talk with them in an age appropriate manner and keep open conversation as part of the helping and healing process.”
4. Be a good role model
Show through your own actions how to take care of yourself. Demonstrate to your child how to take care of their mental and physical wellbeing, by showing them how you take care of your own.
“Show them resilience and how to deal with mental health in a positive way. Parents are their children’s framework of reference on the road of life” says Marguerite. “Young people can pick up on their parents’ feelings and emotions easier than you think and if you are anxious, your child is likely to pick up on that.”
Show them your positive ways of dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so that they can grow these skills themselves to better be able to deal with it. Practicing mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques can give the whole family the tools they need to cope with negative emotions, and help to identify and improve these feelings.
5. Get professional help
“Ease them into talking about seeking help,” says Marguerite. “Explain that you are worried about them and that you think they should consider seeing a specialist for a chat. Tell them that they don’t have to go if they don’t want to and allow them to have a voice in their own journey. Allow them to be part of the process and get them to think about seeking help.”
If you are particularly worried about your son or daughter’s mental health, and are afraid they are at risk of suicide, always seek professional help. Marguerite suggests that parents have a safety plan in place to protect their child during these times. There are a number of agencies and specialists that help those at risk of suicide, and their families.
If you, or a family member are suffering from mental illness, or suicidal ideation please contact one of the following helplines:
World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is an awareness day observed on 10 September every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world.