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Suicide: What Should A Parent Know?
Preventing Suicide: Information for Families and Caregivers.

Suicide is one of the most serious symptoms associated with depression. Although not everyone with depression thinks seriously about suicide, depression and suicide frequently occur together. If someone in your family has depression, you should learn more about the warning signs of suicide and what to do to prevent suicide from happening.

Some Facts about Suicide

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and the fourth leading cause of death for 10- to 14-year-olds.

  • Boys are more likely to commit suicide but girls attempt suicide more frequently than boys.

  • The rate of reported suicide has increased dramatically among 15- to 19-year-old males over the last four decades; but has remained stable among females and 10- to 14-year-olds.

Warning Signs
Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable problems. Therefore, it is very important to recognize the warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. Be aware of the following signs or risk factors of young people who may try to kill themselves:

  • Depression

  • Drug or alcohol use or abuse

  • Previous suicide attempt

  • Withdrawal from friends, family or activities

  • Neglect of personal appearance, how they look

  • Running away from home or unusual rebelliousness

  • Engaging in risky behaviors (e.g., reckless driving, running in street)

  • Pregnancy or other significant life changes

  • Drastic change in eating or sleeping patterns.

  • Putting things in order, such as giving away valued possessions or cleaning their room

  • Hints such as “I’d be better off dead” or “You won’t have to worry about me much longer”

  • Writing about death or drawing morbid pictures

Suicide attempts sometimes occur when the depression improves somewhat, as the young person gets more energy to act out on these thoughts. Some young people will also seem to be more cheerful because they experience the decision to kill themselves as a relief from their suffering and emotional pain.

What Can I Do?
If you suspect that your child may be considering suicide, take it very seriously. Many suicides can be prevented. The warning signs should not be ignored.

  • Talk to your child or teenager.
    Talking about suicide does not put ideas in the child’s head or make them more likely to act on their thoughts. Instead, it lets him or her know that you care and that you want to help them feel better.

  • Listen to your child’s concerns or problems.
    Remember that even minor concerns can be very important toa young person. Don’t dismiss their feelings or try to solve the problems. Be a good listener.

  • Discuss a plan with your teen about what they will do if they feel suicidal.
    Help them make a list of people they can talk to when they are feeling suicidal. Have an agreement that they will not be alone when they are feeling very depressed or out of control.

  • Take responsibility for giving your child their medications.
    Watch and make sure they don’t have access to more than one dose.

  • Remove all lethal objects from the home.
    This includes guns, medications, razors and knives. Don’t trust that hiding these objects in the home is adequate.

  • In crises, call your child’s counselor or psychiatrist or 911.
    They will help you decide what needs to happento keep your child safe. Remember, nothing is more important than making sure your child remains safe
    through this time.

Source:  Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation

Suicide Warning Signs

Warning signs are observable behaviors that may signal the presence of suicidal thinking. They may be considered cries for help or invitations to intervene:

  • Suicide threats: It has been estimated that 80% of all suicide victims have given some clues regarding their intentions. Both direct (“I want to kill myself.”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”) threats need to be taken seriously.
  • Suicide notes and plans: The presence of a suicide note is a very significant sign of danger. The greater the planning revealed by the youth, the greater the risk of suicidal behavior.
  • Prior suicidal behavior: Prior behavior is a powerful predictor of future behavior. Therefore, anyone with a history of suicidal behavior should be carefully observed for future suicidal behavior.
  • Making final arrangements: Making funeral arrangements, writing a will, and/or giving away prized possessions may be warning signs of impending suicidal behavior.
  • Preoccupation with death: Excessive talking, drawing, reading, and/or writing about death may suggest suicidal thinking.
  • Changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts, and/or feelings: Depression (especially when combined with hopelessness), sudden happiness (especially when preceded by significant depression), a move toward social isolation, giving away personal possessions, and reduced interest in previously important activities are among the changes considered to be suicide warning signs.

Intervening to Prevent Suicide

When you see suicide warning signs, immediately ask whether the individual has suicidal thoughts. Be direct. For example: “Sometimes when people have your experiences and feelings, they have thoughts of suicide. Is this something you have thought about?” Failure to ask directly (saying, “You are not thinking of hurting yourself are you?”) may not give the needed permission to acknowledge suicidal thinking. When an individual acknowledges having thoughts of suicide, the following interventions should be undertaken:

  • Remain calm: Becoming too excited or distressed will communicate that the potential caregiver is not able to talk about suicide.
  • Listen: Allow for the discussion of experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Be prepared for expression of intense feelings.
  • Do not judge: Try to understand the reasons for considering suicide without taking a position about whether or not the behavior is justified.
  • Provide constant supervision: Especially when working with youth, do not leave the individual alone until a caregiver (often a parent) has been contacted and agrees to provide appropriate supervision.
  • Remove means: As long as it does not put the caregiver in danger, attempt to remove the suicide means.
  • Get help: For students this means not agreeing to keep the suicidal thinking of a friend a secret. Tell an adult or involve school mental health professionals, such as a school psychologist, as soon as possible. For parents and other adult caregivers getting help means taking action immediately. Seek guidance and support from school or community mental health resources.

Some additional resources that can be found on-line include:

Related Links
  • American Association of Suicidology
    A membership organization of suicide experts (individuals and organizations) aimed at educating about suicide and its prevention and support research to achieve these goals.
    Suicide/HD research studies identified through the U.S. National Library of Medicine's link to federally and privately funded studies worldwide.
  • Heartbeat
    A support group for individuals who survive the loss of a loved one to suicide.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. If you need help, please dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255).