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Preventing Suicide in Youth: Steps for Parents and Teachers

Research-based strategies for preventing suicide risk in youth.

Image courtesy of Flickr
Source: Image courtesy of Flickr

Suicide is a serious mental health issue and it is often associated with depression. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2016), suicide (i.e., taking one’s own life) is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 12-18. A recent report from the CDC (2016), notes that during a 12-month period 17.7% of students reported seriously considering attempting suicide. Furthermore, the report states that rates of considering suicide were much higher among White female (22.8%), Black female (18.7%), and Hispanic female (25.6%) than White male (11.5%), Black male (11.0%), and Hispanic male (12.4%) students. In general, the CDC report indicates that the prevalence of attempting suicide has not change significantly from 2013 (8.0%) to 2015 (8.6%).

Warning Signs of Suicidal Behavior

Although warning signs are generally noted, it is hard for doctors to predict the likelihood that someone will commit suicide. However, there are frequent warning signs of suicide that should be considered when determining if a child is at a higher risk (American Psychological Association, 2016) such as:

  • Talking About Dying -- any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self harm
  • Recent Loss -- through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
  • Change in Personality -- sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
  • Change in Behavior -- can't concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
  • Change in Sleep Patterns -- insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares
  • Change in Eating Habits -- loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control -- acting erratically, harming self or others
  • Low self esteem -- feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, "everyone would be better off without me"
  • No hope for the future -- believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change

Schools and Parents Involvement in Suicide Prevention

Children and adolescents spend a large portion of their day in the school environment either in the classroom or engaging in extracurricular activities. Therefore, it may be common for educators to recognize early warning signs or changes in children’s behaviors. Both teachers and parents play a vital role in suicide risk assessment and referral for mental health treatment. It is recommended that if changes are recognized in the child’s behaviors or if they communicate thoughts about death that the child’s parents be immediately notified.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), there are several actions that parents and teachers can take to help prevention youth suicide.

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Ask the youth directly if he or she is thinking about suicide (e.g., "Are you thinking of suicide?").
  3. Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
  4. Listen.
  5. Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
  6. Do not judge.
  7. Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the youth alone.
  8. Remove means for self-harm.

Resources for Coping with Suicidal Behaviors

If you notice any of the signs or symptoms noted above, please use the resources below to seek assistance. Always contact the treating mental health provider if your child is already receiving treatment. If you child is not receiving treatment, contact your local emergency room for crisis evaluation and treatment. Below are possible resources for managing and treating suicidal behaviors.

Copyright 2016 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2015/ss6506_updated.pdf

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