What To Do If Your Teen May Attempt Suicide
If you have spotted the signs of possible suicide in your teen and you fear that your child may make a teen suicide attempt, you may be scared and not know what to do. This is normal. There is no chapter in a parenting handbook on dealing with a suicidal teen.
Nevertheless, what you do next is very important to avoid an attempted suicide in a teen. Start by not ignoring the problem and vowing to take proactive steps to protect your teen from possible harm.
If your teen is in immediate danger from suicide, do not wait, dial 9-1-1 or take them to an emergency room immediately.
How To Avoid a Teen Suicide Attempt
Talk To Your Teen About Suicide
It's critical to not be dismissive about possible suicidal feelings and open up a dialogue with the teen about suicide. Remember, talking about suicide does not increase the chance of a teen suicide attempt. How you talk about suicide is very important, though. According to expert on teen suicide, Nadine Kaslow PhD, follow these guidelines when talking to a teen about their thoughts of suicide:
- Talk about your concerns in a calm, non-accusatory manner.
- Never simply tell them to stop feeling that way or that it's wrong to feel that way. Validating a teen's feelings is very important, even if you don't necessarily understand them.
- Tell and show your child that you still love him or her. Don't just assume that he or she knows this already.
- Express empathy for a teen's pain by saying things like, "that sounds like that was very difficult," or "I know that can be painful."
- Encourage the teen to get professional help and reinforce the fact that feeling this way or getting help is not a sign of weakness.
- Tell the teen you will work with him/her to get the help needed and that you respect the teen for taking that step.
Often teens are driven to suicide because they feel hopeless and like things will never get better. Try to affirm the opposite by creating positive moments in your teen's life. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of being critical of a teen, rather than showing true concern, so try to act in more positive ways by doing fun things together and chatting about things that won't bring up strong emotional responses.
Get Help to Avoid a Teen Suicide Attempt
Once you've started a conversation with your teen about suicide, it's important to get the teen professional help. You, as a parent, can be a great support but that isn't the same thing as addressing this serious issue.
The best thing to do is to get a referral to a child psychologist or child psychiatrist from your family doctor or get recommendations from a school counselor, if available. You should always seek out a professional who specializes in working with suicidal teens, as not all mental health professionals will feel comfortable in that area. If you feel your teen cannot wait for treatment, it may be time to consider hospitalization or partial hospitalization until outpatient treatment can commence. Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in teens are emergencies and need to be treated that way.
You and your teen may need to interview several professionals before you find one that you and your teen are comfortable with. This healthcare professional may literally have your teen's life in his or her hands, so it's important to take your time and choose wisely.
Once a professional has been selected, everyone in the family should take an active role in your teen's mental health treatment. It's critical that the teen know that everyone is supportive and that he or she is loved and cared for. This could mean bringing everyone in the family in for family therapy.
Different kinds of therapy, and possibly medication, may be used to treat a suicidal teen depending on the underlying issue. For example, if a teen has borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has shown positive results in reducing teen suicides. If a teen has depression or bipolar disorder, medication may be prescribed to help improve his or her mood. In many cases, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used to decrease suicidal thoughts and feelings.
The important thing to remember is that help is available to avoid teens from attempting suicide. Your teen does not have to become a statistic.
Last Updated: 14 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD