Have you talked to your child about suicide?

Mental Health
September 7, 2021
3 min

This week, advocates are joining together to educate members of their community on the warning signs, risk factors and preventative efforts that can be made against suicide. As the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, our country averages 130 suicides per day. It is important that we remain educated on the factors that put an individual at risk for suicide, warning signs, and current treatment options. This way, you can more effectively support your child in case they begin struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Risk Factors

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has reported the mental health disorders, environmental factors and historical factors that could increase your child’s risk of having suicidal thoughts.

Mental health disorders include:

- Depression (most common)

- Anxiety

- Substance Abuse

- Bipolar Disorder

- Schizophrenia

- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

- Aggression

- Mood Disorder

- Conduct Disorder

FAIR Health recently did a study on Pediatric Mental Health and found that mental health claims in children increased over 103% between 2019 and 2020. If your child is suffering from one of these mental health conditions and remains undiagnosed and untreated, they put themselves at an even higher risk for suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention noted that those who manage their mental health conditions are less likely to commit suicide. Suffering from physical pain or brain injury can also affect one’s will to live, resulting in self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

Environmental factors include:

- Access to lethal means, including firearms or drugs

- Long periods of stress

- Bullying or harassment

- Relationship problems

- Unemployment

- Exposure to suicide or graphic/sensationalized accounts of suicide

Environmental factors will affect everyone differently and must be addressed as soon as they begin to show correlation to one’s behavior and talk. It can be difficult to get your child to talk about the relationships they have with their friends or if they are being bullied. It will take time, but remaining diligent in having open, judgment-free conversations will make them more comfortable coming to you when they begin to experience these feelings.

Historical factors include:

- Previous suicide attempts

- Family history of suicide

- Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

These types of factors can often be out of one’s control. Recovering from childhood trauma or dealing with a family history of suicide is a struggle in itself and requires consistent support from loved ones.

Initial Warning Signs

A devastating 8.9% of high school students admit to attempting suicide over the past 12 months. The signs that someone may be considering suicide as a solution are often prevalent in their talk, behavior and mood. They may begin saying things related to killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped or experiencing unbearable pain. Their changes in behavior could include increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawing from activities, isolating themselves, sleeping too much, fatigue and aggression. 

These individuals may begin visiting or calling loved ones to say goodbye or giving away personal items without explanation. They may also begin searching the internet for ways to end their life or talking about the various ways they could commit suicide. Changes in their mood could include loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, irritability, humiliation, shame, anger or sudden relief and improvement.

Decreasing One’s Risk For Suicide

If you believe your child is at an increased risk of suicide, you must prioritize their mental health in an effort to prevent them from developing these thoughts. Consistently talk with them about how they are feeling, what they believe is making them feel this way and how they can improve their mental health. In order to be a resource and support system, you need to take the initiative in doing research of your own. Educating yourself on mental health disorders will allow you to confidently provide your child with actionable steps in nurturing a healthy mind. If they do begin to struggle mentally, you will ideally have created an environment free of the stigma around mental health, encouraging them to talk openly with you about their emotions.

While many of the warning signs could appear to be normal tween and teen behavior, it is still in your best interest to remain aware and conscious of the dangerous potential. Watching someone you love and care about suffer from suicidal thoughts is a difficult thing. You want to be able to support them in any way that you can and take this pain and suffering away. When seeking treatment, consult a healthcare professional to discuss medication and psychotherapy. Although there is not a quick fix when it comes to suicidal thoughts, you can work with your child in managing their symptoms or treating their mental health disorder.

For confidential, emotional support to those considering suicide or individuals who believe their friend or loved one is having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For additional resources, visit our Helpful Hotlines.

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