WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
-Know the “code orange” factors (an increased risk for suicide):
· death of someone close (relative/peer/pet) or some “teen-significant” loss (failed relationship, rejection from team/college).
· substance abuse (including/especially alcohol and THC).
· depression, anxiety.
· feelings of worthlessness.
· sleep & food disturbance (too much/too little).
· withdrawing from activities (sports, family/peer social events.
· sudden poor hygiene.
-Know the “code red” factors (imminent risk):
· talking/writing about death, or hopeless “no way out” scenarios.
· sudden, unexplained happiness after a prolonged depression.
· withdrawal from activities, family, and friends.
· giving away loved items.
· unusually poor appearance/hygiene.
· “goodbye” texts/meetings with friends.
· acquiring pills, guns, or ropes.
· weak” or “attention getting” attempts (parasuicide).
-Get close and stay close to your kid.
-Use the three-question technique to see how immediate the threat is:
(1) “I can see you feel really lousy. Have you felt so bad that you wished you weren’t alive?” If they answer, “Yeah”, ask:
(2) “Have you felt so crappy that you thought about ending your life?” If they answer, “Yeah”, ask:
(3) “If you did end your life, how would you do that?”
If they identify a method, hug them and say, “Thanks so much for telling me! We’ll get you some help now.”
-Get them to a licensed mental health professional for an immediate evaluation.
-Stay with them 24/7 until you get there. Go to the nearest ER or crisis center if immediate help is not available.
-Remove all guns, pills, and ropes from the house. Check their room and belongings for any hidden items.
WHAT YOU DON'T DO
-Guess if they’re serious or not. If you’re reading this, then it is!
-Worry that asking about suicide will “put it in their head.” (It’s already in all their heads to some extent).
-Judge what they says (“Oh you don’t really want to die…”).
-Discount their pain (“You’ll feel better tomorrow.”).
-Ever, ever dare them to suicide even if you think this is a manipulation (“You don’t have the guts…”).
-Think that “weak” “attention-getting” attempts aren’t dangerous. Those are great predictors of awful events.
-Assume they’re OK if they “change their mind” after talking with you. Say, “I’m so glad that you feel better, but the fact that you wanted to die means that we need to chat with a helper ASAP”.
If you’ve allotted yourself one moment in your parenting life to keep cool under intense fire, use that moment now because a suicidal kid who shuts up to avoid upsetting their parents is much more likely to die.
I’ve read too many teen suicide notes portraying the ultimate irony of kids ending their lives in order to not burden their families anymore. Think about that horror for a moment, and then calm yourself so thoroughly so that your kid senses that they can tell you horrifying thoughts without you getting angry, dismissing them, giving them dumb advice, or going to pieces.
Their emotional vomiting works just like with food poisoning: it helps them to spew out those terrible “toxins” so that they do less damage. In this way, your loving and calm demeanor means everything to your child’s survival. They will use it to steady themselves, to disarm their killer urges, and to remember that they are loved and supported by wise people who know all about cold, dark nights and warm, brilliant sunrises.
A fact disbelieved by many adults is that suicide among teenagers has roughly quintupled since the mid-1950’s. This disbelief causes too many of us to not react to the warning signs as seriously as we should.
A child dying by their own hand is a thought so unthinkable that many of us minimize it, even if they tell us about it. That can be a fatal response since the majority of teens who suicide do so shortly after telling someone that they want to die, someone who didn’t take them seriously enough to take action (often a friend).
The tragic fact is that talking openly with a skilled, caring listener and/or loving parent about their reasons for dying lessens that terrible possibility. Suicide talk is both the fire alarm and extinguisher.
A second source of parental blindness is thinking that teens think like us. A suicidal impulse to an adult can be quickly and safely whisked away with thoughts borne by experience and brain maturity (“I’ve been knocked down before and the sun always rose in the morning.”) Your kid might have neither the experience nor the brain wiring to understand that the sun will show up.
Have other teen concerns?
Contact Dr. Bradley to discuss creating a program tailor-made for your specific needs
Dr. Michael J. Bradley Adolescent Psychologist
Suite 15-B, 1200 Bustleton Pike Feasterville PA 19053
Copyright © 2023 Dr. Mike Bradley Adolescent Psychologist - All Rights Reserved.
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