Sadly, suicide continues to be a serious public health problem, especially among youth and young adults.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of attempted suicides among teenagers has increased from 6.3 percent in 2009 to 7.8 percent in 2011. Suicide remains the third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year olds.
Most young people don’t really want to die, they just want the pain they are experiencing to end, said Kendra Patton, a licensed clinical social worker at The Children’s Center, a program of Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois (MHCCI).
“Suicide is preventable,” Patton said. “If an adult becomes aware of a young person who is experiencing thoughts of suicide, do not ignore them. Oftentimes they feel alone, and if an adult ignores them, it reinforces their thoughts that no one can help. Every expression of suicide must be taken seriously. This lets the young person know you are listening and you care enough to get them help.”
Thoughts of suicide are also on the rise. Of the teens the CDC surveyed, 15.8 percent said they had seriously considered attempting suicide, up from 13.8 percent in 2009.
- Five tips Patton recommends to parents for talking to their child about suicide:
- Create an environment for open communication. Let them know that they can talk about good topics and difficult topics and that you are there to help.
- Discuss the subject of suicide. It should be brought up every now and then to let them know you are open about the subject and not afraid to discuss it.
- Make sure they know the warning signs. These can include a sudden change in behavior or appearance, isolating themselves, not joining in activities they once enjoyed and talking about death. If your child is concerned about someone, they should not keep it to themselves. They should talk to a trusted adult. “The more warning signs a young person shows, the greater the likelihood of committing suicide,” Patton said. “Never take the warning signs lightly or promise to keep them a secret.”
- Stay calm if a child tells you they have being feeling suicidal or that a friend is feeling suicidal. Offer support and listen to them. It is important to share your concerns, but also give them an opportunity to speak. If they do not say anything right away, give them time to form their thoughts. If you begin talking again, they may shut down.
- Talking about suicide to young people will not put the idea into their heads. Be direct but non-confrontational. Let them know you are there to help.
If a child is identified as potentially suicidal, he or she needs to be seen by a mental health professional immediately. You should contact your local mental health center, emergency department or call the crisis line for your area. Pediatricians and primary care providers can also be a source for mental health referrals.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available in English and Spanish 24 hours a day at (800) 273-TALK (8255). This free and confidential hotline can be called by a person in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Someone who is concerned about a person displaying suicidal warning signs can also call the hotline.
“The most important thing to remember is that suicide is preventable,” Patton said. “Do not ignore the warning signs and seek help immediately. Help is available for anyone who may be struggling with mental health issues or suicidal feelings.”
MHCCI has trained professionals who are available to help you deal with the major emotional crises of life 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For more information, visit MHCCI’s Suicide and Crisis Services page.