Suicide is the second leading cause of teen deaths in the United States; yet more than two thirds of teens who have had thoughts of suicide don’t receive treatment.
Researchers are seeking to improve intervention efforts. In a study published last month in the journal, Pediatrics, they surveyed more than 5,100 adolescents aged 11 to 17 and their parents, and found that almost half of the parents lacked awareness that their child even had thoughts about attempting suicide.
“Unfortunately, parents are often unaware of their child’s thoughts of suicide until after the first suicide attempt,” says Dr. Raul Poulsen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Miami Health System.
Parents are typically the ones who seek out medical care for their children. If they are unaware that their child is contemplating taking their own life, teens may not get the help they need.
If you are – or a loved one is – thinking about suicide or need emotional support, call the 24/7 Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. All calls are confidential and free.
The study highlights an important step in reducing the teen suicide rate – educating parents about risk factors and warning signs that their child may be suicidal.
Some teens are more at risk for suicide attempts, says Dr. Poulsen.
These include kids who have:
- A family member who has committed or attempted suicide
- Been bullied
- A history of violence or trauma
- Having access to a lethal means; like a firearm
- Use of illicit drugs or alcohol
Typical warning signs include:
- Sadness that seems pervasive and frequent
- Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Declining grades and loss of interest in activities
- Physical complaints that are frequent and often related to their emotions. (stomach aches, fatigue, headaches, etc.)
- Heightened interest or fixation on death and dying
How can you get help?
If your child is exhibiting any of these signs, talk to them. Provide an atmosphere that is not judgmental, be curious and ask questions, suggests Dr. Poulsen.
Many teens may deny thoughts of killing themselves. But, if you still have concerns, the doctor says to have a proper evaluation done by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health provider.
It’s also important to remove dangerous objects that could be used in a suicide attetmpt.
“Guns greatly increase the potential for a completed suicide attempt,” adds Dr. Poulsen. “If there are firearms in the home, keep them locked up and store ammunition in a separate secured location.”
Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. Her writing has also been featured on the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy websites.