“Is my teen suicidal?”
This a question that creates fear in the heart of most parents yet, in this day and age, it can be a most important question.
There’s a problem however: in an ideal world, young people (and people in general) would be open and honest that they are thinking about hurting themselves. But if you think about it, most would not:
- Tell you they are struggling with drugs or alcohol.
- Tell you their marriage is falling apart, or they are being abused.
- Tell you they have a gambling addiction and they are broke.
Some people might share these, but many wouldn’t.
It’s the same for being suicidal – especially young people who, at the best of times, struggle to communicate their hurts.
Some might feel there is no-one they can trust, some might fear ridicule or punishment, while others have a very difficult time putting overwhelming feelings into words.
Red Flags: Signs your Teen might be Suicidal
Most of the time however, there are some red flags along the way. Here are just some:
Academic Red Flags
- Sudden drop in academic achievement;
- Wagging classes or truancy from school.
Behavioural Red Flags
- Sudden change in friends, problems with authority, or poor conflict resolution;
- Difficulty concentrating, excessive dependence, poor impulse control;
- Giving away their possessions.
Emotional Red Flags
- Sudden mood swings;
- Feeling down, hopeless, worthless;
- Signs of frustration, anger or stress;
- Poor self-esteem or lack of motivation to succeed at school.
Physical Red Flags
- Signs of self-harm (scars on hands, stomach, thighs; burn marks);
- Aches and pains;
- Rapid weight loss or weight gain;
- Excessive fatigue.
Apart from current red flags, there are also a number of things that tend to put young people in a higher risk category such as:
- A previous suicide attempt (especially in the last 12 months);
- A history of substance abuse;
- Losing a friend or family member to suicide;
- Having a mental health condition;
- Relationship problems in the family;
- Exposure to bullying;
- Access to harmful means.
Sometimes the teenager might be dropping hints that something is wrong. Consider it a red flag if you teenager says things along the lines of:
- “Nothing matters”;
- “I wonder how many people would come to my funeral?”;
- “Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up”;
- “Everyone would be better off without me”;
- “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”
Some things to remember:
- Most of the time, there is a part of your teenager that doesn’t actually want to die.
- Talking about it won’t “put it in their heads”.
- Teens thinking about suicide usually feel hopeless, out of control and unable to cope.
- The pain they are experiencing is intense, and in this moment, suicide seems the only way out.
- Suicidal teens are looking for a way to stop their emotional pain.
- They are tired of hurting and tired of feeling no one understands what they are going through.
How to Respond If Your Teen Says They Have Thoughts of Suicide:
- If your teen has said they have thought about suicide, it is time to gently dig deeper by asking general questions about what happened or what they were feeling that lead to those thoughts, and how they are feeling now.
- Ask about any recent stressors in their life such as any losses for the teen or the family.
- Encourage your teen to describe what they’re feeling. Say something like, “I had no idea things were so bad for you, talk to me about what’s going on”.
- Ask your teen to share whether a specific incident led to the suicidal thoughts. Ask a question such as, “Has something happened? I want to know more, it might help to talk about it”.
- Show acceptance. Listen without judgment or disagreeing with their statements or feelings.
- Ask if your teen has a specific plan for suicide. The more specific the plan, the higher the risk.
Below I have listed some great services that might help guide you. Obviously if your child is distressed and actively considering suicide with a clear plan, don’t wait; attend your nearest Emergency Department at your local Hospital. For general advice and support, the following can be very helpful:
- https://kidshelpline.com.au/ – Ph 1800 55 1800
- Metro South Mental Health 24/7 number – Ph 1300 64 22 55. General information for patients, families, friends, emergencies, referrals etc.
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 – Provides immediate support to anyone feeling suicidal. In addition, they can provide ongoing support with up to six 50-minute telephone counselling sessions to provide support.
- Lifeline Ph 13 11 14.
Author: Dr David Ward, BSocWk, BA., Grad Dip (Couple Thpy), M.Couns., MPhil., PhD.
Dr David Ward has been a therapist for over 25 years and has talked to many suicidal teenagers and their families. His areas of professional interest include the use of EMDR therapy to help with recovery from domestic violence, child abuse, PTSD, depression and anxiety; family therapy; and working with victims of spiritual and ritual abuse.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.