September is National Suicide Prevention month. As a pediatric integrated primary care office it is our responsibility to care for our patients’ physical well-being and mental health. Unfortunately, suicide is a reality that teens face and it is important to educate yourself about the warning signs of teen suicide.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Colorado youth ages 12-18. Nationally, more teenagers die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, chronic lung disease and birth defects combined. In fact, there are approximately 3,041 suicide attempts made by high school aged children per year.
Some of these attempts happen without any clear warning signs; however, this is the exception and not the rule. Of all suicide attempts made by teens, 4 out of 5 provide clear warning signs about their intentions beforehand. It is important to educate yourself on the warning signs, in case one day you need to help a young person going through a mental health crisis.
Often, the signs of teen suicidality look similarly to behaviors linked to ”typical” adolescent development. It can be difficult to distinguish the difference between the two, although it is possible. If the behaviors seem sudden and “out of character”, or persisting over a long period of time, this is cause for concern. If there is the slightest concern, it is important to pay close attention to that young person and get them the professional help they need.
Signs a teen may be contemplating suicide include:
- Direct or indirect suicide threats ex. “I’m going to kill myself!” / “I’d be better off dead”
- Preoccupation or obsession with death or suicide
- Seeking access to pills, weapons or other means
- Increased use of drugs and alcohol
- Unexplained or usually severe, violent or rebellious behavior.
- Giving away prized possessions
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Drastic change in sleeping or eating patterns
- Decreased performance in school
- Agitation, distress, distress or panicky behavior
If you notice any of these warning signs, it is important to stop and listen to your teen in a non-judgmental way. If you’re struggling to get the conversation going, suggest that you two take a ride together. Young people are sometimes more likely to talk to you about something difficult if you’re seated next to them rather than across from them. A car ride can be that ideal setting, plus ensure privacy. Let the teen talk and share what they are experiencing. It’s a common misconception that talking to someone about suicide will encourage the act. Not so. Research indicates that talking about it can provide a source of comfort for the teen because you’re acknowledging their pain and expressing your genuine willingness to help. Talking directly about suicide is better than avoiding the conversation. If in that moment the teen is at immediate risk of killing themselves, call 911 or take them to the emergency room. Do not leave that teen alone unless your personal safety is in danger.
When the crisis is over, the teen will still be at risk of suicide, so accessing appropriate support such as counseling, support groups, medication or peer mentoring can minimize risk and lead to recovery.
To learn how to help a young person in crisis, we encourage you to take a Youth Mental Health First Aid class. To find a class in Colorado, go to mhfaco.org/findclass.
If you or someone you know is currently in a mental health crisis, call 1-844-493-8255 to talk to a licensed therapist or visit the Behavioral Health Urgent Care at Community Reach Center, located at 2551 W. 84th Ave in Westminster.