Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., L.P.
Psychiatry & Psychology
Navigating adolescence can be challenging for anyone. It's a time of facing significant milestones and experiencing confusing physical and hormonal changes. The COVID-19 pandemic escalated some challenges and created new issues. Loneliness and psychological distress rates increased exponentially during and following the height of the pandemic.
Regardless of age, life's challenges can affect anyone's ability to cope. When hard times lead to depression or hopelessness, some people contemplate suicide as their only way out. But there is hope and suicide can be preventable. Awareness of risk factors and warning signs, along with knowledge of what to do to help, can make a difference in the lives of others.
Risk factors for suicide include:
- Conflict with others
- Family conflict and poor relationships in general
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
- History of or current experience(s) of bullying
- History of suicidal thoughts or self-injury
- Loss of close friend(s) by suicide
Warning signs among those at risk for suicide include:
- Decreases in academic or job performance
- Direct or indirect verbal threats of suicide
- Giving away prized possessions
- Irritability or anger
- Loss of interest in usual activities or social and emotional withdrawal
- Sudden or dramatic changes in mood
Helping teens find hope while understanding their emotional struggles is essential to starting their journey to healing.
Here are five things you can do to help prevent suicide:
1. Acknowledge negative feelings and provide support.
If your teen is going through a rough time, provide support. Listen to their concerns and let your teen know you are there to help. Also, look for ways to provide spiritual, emotional and personal support and offer problem-solving and coping techniques that could improve the situation.
2. Be honest.
Talk to your teen. Ask how they are doing and about some of the emotions they may be experiencing. Review past experiences that were challenging and talk about how your teen overcame them. Validate their concerns while gently reminding them about the temporary nature of problems and that moving forward through adversity is possible by using resilience tools developed in the past.
3. Promote social connectivity.
Identify ways to connect more as a family and provide opportunities to connect with peers and other adult caregivers. These social connections can help override a teen's feelings of loneliness and helplessness and allow them to transition to a sense of belonging and importance.
4. Ask questions and have conversations.
Noticing changes in your teen can be unsettling. Be proactive and ask what's wrong. If you're worried your teen may have suicidal thoughts, be direct and ask, "Are you thinking about hurting yourself?" Asking about suicidal thoughts doesn't cause harm and often helps. If your teen answers yes, don't downplay the situation. Ask how you can help, express your concerns about his or her feelings and seek professional help.
5. Seek professional help.
There are many treatment options for people contemplating taking their own life. More than 90% of people who commit suicide have one or more treatable mental illnesses. Even if the root cause isn't a mental illness, coping techniques and emotional support are proven methods to aid those in need.
Suicide is a significant concern in the U.S. and was the 11th leading cause of death for people ages 10 and over in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 40-year study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention revealed that approximately 100,000 teens ages 15–19 died by suicide between 1975 and 2015. You can find specific programs for students and parents in the More Than Sad section of the organization's website.
The positive news is that with the proper information and willingness to reach out to someone in need, everyone can help prevent suicide.
- In case of emergency, call 911 or the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
- Get additional information from the National Institute of Mental Health Suicide Prevention.
- Find resources for developing a safety plan from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Get tips for preventing suicide based on the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why."