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Parents should talk to teens about suicide and know the risks

By Rachel Velishek • Feb 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Suicide is a topic that is tough to talk about, but one that needs to be addressed. It is real. It takes the lives of many people every single day.

It knows no gender, race, or profession. It does not discriminate and it cannot be ignored.

The scary reality is that suicide is a contagion. The younger the individual, the increased risk that others will attempt or complete their own suicide. Contagion is the process by which one suicide may contribute to another. Yes, it is rare, accounting for less than 5 percent of all suicide deaths annually. Adolescents appear more susceptible to imitate suicide than adults, most likely because teenagers identify more with peers than with adults.

No one wants to prepare for a suicide — not school officials, mental health professionals, family or friends. It’s much easier to focus on the prevention, than discuss the after effect. Yet, it does occur and a plan needs to be in place. In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost one in five teens had thought about suicide, about one in six teens made a plan for suicide, and more than one in 12 teens attempted suicide in the last year. At least eight out of 10 of those teens who completed suicide attempted to ask for help in some way.

Locally, according to the 2017 Huron County Health Assessment regrading youth and mental health, results indicated that nearly one-fifth (18 percent) of Huron County youth had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year; 7 percent attempted suicide in the past year. Nearly half (49 percent) of youth reported they would seek help if they were dealing with anxiety, stress, depression or thoughts of suicide.

There is not a person that is immune to suicide. There are factors that make an adolescent more vulnerable than others. As parents, we want to protect our children from any harm. We want them to be safe and feel loved.

As children age, it becomes more difficult to know what he/she is feeling. We only know what they are willing to share. Knowing what to look for is important so that the right questions can be asked and help provided. Teens have more difficulty coping with stress.

Teens today have it hard. Yes, they have luxuries that we did not, but teenagers also have social media at every step. Emotions, break up, or conflict is immediately made public before the adolescent has time to process through and cope. Teens struggle with rejection, failure, and family turmoil. An adolescent brain is not fully developed.

The ability to manage intense emotions is delayed, making coping more difficult. Very often a teen struggles to see that the current emotion or situation is only temporary, which puts them at risk for making a permanent response- NOT a SOLUTION to a temporary problem.

Risks linked to teen suicide include having psychiatric disorder, family history of psychiatric disorder, family history of attempted or completed suicide, loss of or conflict with friends or family, history of abuse or exposure to violence, problems or experimenting with drugs and or alcohol, physical or medical issues, unplanned pregnancy, victim of bullying, uncertain of sexual orientation or unaccepted sexual orientation.

If you suspect suicide for your teen, take immediate action. Do not minimize, or ignore the symptoms, behaviors or warning signs. Address the underlying psychiatric illness and schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. Listen to your child, observe the behaviors, never assume that a child’s threat of suicide is attention seeking or “just being dramatic.” Discourage isolation and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Safely store firearms, alcohol and all medications. Access to means can play a role if a teen is already suicidal.

It is important for suicide to not be simplified or glamorized. There are individuals who have lost a family member to suicide and it is not discussed. The act of suicide is kept as a dark family secret. That is the problem. Yes, it is dark. Yes, it is scary, but minimizing what it is does not help anyone. It is important to be honest, recognize and communicate that an individual who completed suicide was more than likely struggling with a mental health disorder which can cause significant psychological pain and that pain may or may not always be recognized by others.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.

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