How to Talk to Your Teen about Suicide
Let’s Talk Statistics
The pandemic has brought many aspects of mental health, not often previously addressed, in open conversation. The topic of teenage suicide that was not commonly discussed, is now often in the news. If you are the parent of a teenager, the following statistic is directed at you: there has been a 54 percent increase in suicide in the 10 to 24 age group between 2007 and 2020, and now (post-pandemic), suicide is the second leading cause of death among children 10 to 14 years old.
Indeed, the pandemic brought many fears of sickness and death to the minds of teenagers, but feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety existed for our teenage population way before the pandemic.
Get a Pulse on Your Teen’s Mental Health
Before you speak to your teenager about suicide, you should have a clear understanding of their mental health. Are they smoking pot or experimenting with drugs, engaging in risky behavior, feeling hopeless, familiar with someone who has attempted suicide, or has access to a weapon or other means to promote self-harm? Do you, as their parent, or does a licensed professional feel they need psychological and/or pharmaceutical therapy or are they simply experiencing the usual soundtrack of depression, anxiety, fears, and loneliness that often accompany the teenage years? This conversation is a delicate one because, at the same time that teens need your support, they are trying to become an adult and separate and individuate from you, adding to their identity confusion.
Encouraging Social Connections
In addition to having direct, caring, non-judgmental, and open communication with your teenager about their thoughts and feelings, you should encourage the development of friendships with their peers. Teenage relationships enhance their sense of belonging. By forming social connections, they can feel less lonely and depressed. Your conversations with your teenager, guidance, love, and support should try to give them the tools to cope with situations that make them feel anxious and stressed. Your teenager must learn to try to control negative feelings and difficult thoughts about themselves that come up in daily life and try to replace them with positive ones when possible.
Social connections are more important today, post-pandemic, than ever before because today’s teenagers spend so many hours alone on social media, listening to music, or on their phones. None of these activities makes them feel better about themselves in the long run. Teens must get back to pre-pandemic connections with friends, family, mentors, and others.
Preparing Your Teen for High School or College
Another time period that brings much anxiety to teenagers is the period of transition between high school and college. They need open communication with you in order to help alleviate academic and social stressors. The college process is more difficult, confusing, and selective than ever. Kids want to please their parents and impress their friends and teachers but also find the right fit for college and worry about and then experience the emotional stress of starting college life away from you.
In your conversation with your teenager, you can be prepared to get some pushback. It is a fact that teenagers will try to define themselves by shocking their parents, by not wanting to accept family values, and sometimes, dangerously, wanting to end their lives because they are disenchanted with the way things are and feel that they either do not want to or cannot cope with the world and its pressures as is. Sigmund Freud said that “adolescence is the decisive time of separation”; therefore, the pressures, contradictions, and vulnerability of being a teenager are all part of the process of becoming an adult.
Ask for Help from Professionals
If you feel that your teenager is going through an especially difficult time, then you should connect with a therapist to guide you on ways to provide the necessary support. Please check out our Child and Adolescent section to learn more about who we treat, what we treat and learn more about our team.
This post was created by The Midtown Practice and posted by Macaroni Kid for families on the Lower East Side and Upper West Side. We understand New Yorkers.