Katie Collins, LPC, CEAP
The adolescent years can be a time of excitement and limitless possibilities. For many teens, however, this period can be a challenging time of confusion, loneliness, and suffering. Research now shows that up to 20% of American teens suffer from depression in any given year, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-24.
How can you—the parent—tell whether your teen is going through the typical growing pains of adolescence, or if they are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts?
Isolating from loved ones: Suicidal teens feel disconnected from family and friends, and typically spend most of their time alone. When the teen does interact with their social network, they appear irritable, angry, cynical, depressed, or distracted.
Inability to visualize a future: Teens who are suicidal often have difficulty seeing the possibility of a future for themselves. They find it impossible to identify goals or interests they would like to pursue and often talk about their lives as being pointless, hopeless, or worthless.
Talking or writing about suicide: Teens who are considering suicide may make comments—even jokingly—about wanting to die or kill themselves. They may write about suicide in journals, letters, text messages, or on social media, or create death-related artwork.
Unusual, abrupt, or unexpected changes in behavior: Uncharacteristic outbursts of violence, promiscuity, substance abuse, rebellion or dangerous behaviors may stem from your teen’s lack of concern for their own safety and well-being.
Giving away possessions or saying goodbyes: Individuals who are planning suicide will give away prized possessions and tell loved ones they love them or thank them for being supportive and loving throughout their lives.
Here are 4 effective ways to help your teen:
Approach your teen with compassion. Communicate specific changes you’ve noticed that concern you. Speak in a way that conveys your concern for their safety and happiness. Use words like “depression” and “suicide” confidently, as this will show your teen you are okay talking about what’s really going on for them.
LISTEN! Have a genuine desire to understand their experiences. Do your best to remain calm and avoid becoming angry regardless of what they bring up.
Get help. If your teen has a plan to commit suicide, get them to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible. Medical professionals can help you intervene during a crisis and keep your teen safe. If your teen is not currently suicidal, but acknowledges recent suicidal thoughts or depression, schedule a visit with a mental health professional.
Practice self-care. Being a parent is NOT EASY! Consider working with a mental health professional yourself to navigate the challenges of parenting. A counselor can help you come up with a plan to take care of yourself and your teen.
Katie Collins is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with teens and adults who suffer from depression, suicidality, and many other mental health concerns. She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at 440.376.9599.
Major Depression. (2019, February). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml#part_155032
Teen Depression: Causes, Symptoms, Heredity, and Treatments. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/teen-depression#1
Youth Suicide Statistics. (2019). Retrieved from http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/