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Preventing teen suicide: How parents can help

A father and son sitting looking somber.

Nov. 28, 2020—How is your teenager coping with the pandemic?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), teens may be having an especially difficult time right now. They can worry about the pandemic just like adults. If they're learning remotely, chances are they're missing their friends. Plus, they may be missing out on fun extracurricular activities like music, theater and sports.

Signs your teen is struggling

Your teen may not tell you straight out that they are depressed or stressed. So the AAP suggests that parents look for these symptoms:

  • Unusual changes in mood, including frequent conflicts with friends and family.
  • Changes in behavior, such as going from being a social butterfly to avoiding people.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Changes in sleeping habits.
  • Changes in appetite. This could mean not eating or eating more than usual.
  • Trouble with memory, thinking or concentration.
  • Loss of interest in schoolwork.
  • Changes in appearance.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Talking about death or suicide.

What a parent can do

The first thing you can do as a parent is check your own behavior as a role model. If you're exhibiting a doom and gloom attitude, it can rub off on your child. Instead, try to stay positive. Instill in them a sense that things are going to get better eventually.

If your child seems troubled, talk to them. Tell them about the changes you've noticed in them, and let them know that you're there to help.

Don't ignore despairing statements, like:

  • "Nothing matters."
  • "Sometimes I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up."
  • "Everyone would be better off without me."
  • "I just want to die."

Respond calmly. Tell them, "You must be really hurting inside. Tell me how you feel." Then listen without judgment to what they have to say.

Don't be afraid to just come out and ask if your teen is thinking about suicide. Studies show that asking about suicide doesn't increase suicidal thoughts. Instead, it may actually decrease them.

If suicide is on their mind

If your teen is talking about suicide, then it's time to act. Remove or lock up anything they could use to harm themselves, such as guns and pills. You may need to temporarily take away your teen's access to a vehicle too.

Next, get in touch with professional help. That might be your child's doctor or a mental health counselor. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 for more resources. Go to the emergency department or call 911 if you think your teen is in immediate danger.

Not sure if your teen is depressed? See how their symptoms compare to this depression assessment.

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