Children’s Mental Health: Youth Suicide and Warning Signs
Youth suicide is a difficult topic to discuss. Many parents do not want to think their child is capable of taking his or her life, but here is a startling statistic from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis for youth in this country, which is not unexpected as rates of suicide typically increase during times of high stress. Lockdowns and school closures have isolated children and teens from loved ones and caregivers whom they often turned to for support. They’ve been separated from their peers, and have missed major milestones like birthdays, proms and graduations. In addition to this isolation, the ongoing stress, grief and uncertainty have left many adolescents struggling to cope.
Mental Health America conducted a survey to assess the state of mental health in this country. It found 9.7 percent of youth in the U.S. “have severe major depression.” The rate was highest (12.4 percent) for youth who identify as being of more than one race. What’s more, in September 2020, more than half of 11-to-17-year-olds in the study reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half of the days, or nearly every day, of the previous two weeks.
These sad numbers underscore how important it is for parents to check in with their children frequently to assess their mental health and get immediate help if they are showing signs of distress. Here are some ways parents (or any loved ones) can help.
Watch for warning signs
Suicide is preventable. If your child -- or anyone, for that matter -- talks about suicide, believe them and get them help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline advises to watch for the following warning signs to determine if loved ones are at risk for suicide, especially if their behavior has changed or seems related to a loss of a loved one:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Exhibiting extreme mood swings
Listen to your child
Really listen to what your children have to say, and never minimize their feelings. Failing a test, fighting with a friend, or an embarrassing situation may feel like the end of the world to a young person. Be sympathetic. Acknowledge the problem. Stress that while it is tough now, it will get better in time.
If you see something is bothering your children, don’t wait for them to come to you to talk. Depressed people often retreat into themselves. They may be too embarrassed to admit they are unhappy -- boys in particular may try to hide their feelings. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you knock on the bedroom door, sit down on the bed, and say, “You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it? Maybe I can help.”
Seek help immediately
If you suspect your child is suicidal, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255). All calls are confidential. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘TALK’ to 741741. If you think your child is actively suicidal and in danger of self-harm, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. In a non-emergency situation, you can talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s social and emotional health. Pediatricians can screen for depression and suicide risk. You can also ask about other concerns like anxiety or trouble coping with stress.
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