Parents have been asking me some tough questions recently about their teenagers being stressed to the point where they might try to hurt themselves or even try to commit suicide. Although this is a difficult topic for parents to want to talk about, let me try to provide some helpful information.
First, be aware that suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds behind accidents and homicide. The risk of a teenager committing suicide is much higher if a teen has access to firearms, so keeping any guns you have at home unloaded and locked away, with ammunition locked away separately from the gun, is a good preventive step.
Who is at risk for thinking about suicide? Usually it's the teen who feels disconnected and isolated from family and friends particularly if they have an underlying and undetected psychological disorder like depression. Often a stressful event such as failure at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, being bullied by peers, or a major family conflict can trigger thoughts of suicide in a teen.
You should be concerned if your teen is:
If you see any of these warning signs, ask your teenager whether they are thinking about hurting themselves. Don't be afraid to use the word suicide since getting the word out in the open may help your teenager understand that you really do hear his or her cries for help. This does not plant the idea into their head. Rather, it enables you to help them get help before something really bad happens.
There is also a national suicide hotline number, 1-800-Suicide or 1-800-273-TALK, that can also get you and most importantly your teenager the emergency help needed. And of course your child's doctor is always poised to help you or your teenager in need.
While suicide prevention is not an easy topic to think or talk about, hopefully raising your awareness about this topic may allow you become a life-saver for that teenager you love.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids video archives at www.fletcherallen.org/firstwithkids.