First With Kids: What You Need to Know About Teen Suicide

Dr. Lewis First sitting at his desk.

Parents have been asking me some tough questions recently about their teenagers being stressed to the point they might try to hurt themselves or even try to commit suicide. This is a topic that should be stressed for all parents, so let me try to provide some helpful information.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for 15 to 24-year-olds, and the risk of this occurring is four to 10 times higher if teens have access to firearms in the home.

Who is at risk for thinking about suicide? Usually, it’s the teen who feels disconnected and isolated from family and friends (and that can certainly be the case in the midst of this pandemic), or perhaps an adolescent who might have an underlying and undetected mental health disorder like depression. Often a stressful event such as failure at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a major family conflict can trigger thoughts of suicide in a teen.

Here’s what parents can do:

  • Be aware of some of the warning signs that may mean your teenager is considering hurting or killing themselves, such as when your teen appears to pull away from family and friends, is no longer eating or sleeping well, and suddenly starts showing signs of self-destructive behavior like drinking alcoholic beverages and taking drugs, especially when they have never done this type of behavior before.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide” if you do see any of these signs in your teen. Have a conversation with your teen, since getting the word out in the open may help your teenager understand that someone has heard their cries for help. This does not plant the idea into their head but enables you to get them help before something bad happens rather than after it’s too late.
  • Know that the national suicide hotline, 1-800-suicide, can also help get you or a loved one the emergency help needed, and your older child or teen’s health care professional is always poised to help as well.
  • If you do own a gun and think your teen is depressed or having mood swings, store your gun outside your home for the time being until your teen gets the help they need.

While suicide prevention is not an easy topic to think or talk about, hopefully my helping to raise your awareness about this topic may allow you to be the lifesaver for someone you love. 

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.

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