How to talk to your teens about suicide prevention

By Brittany Farrar on 31st Aug 2021

September is recognized as Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month when we in the mental health profession bring attention to depression and dark thoughts, which can help assuage suicidal ideation. Raquel Shultz, LPC-MHSP AS, program director of specialized crisis services for Youth Villages, offers tips on how to look for signs that your teen may be thinking about suicide and how to talk to them about their thoughts.

What are some real-life signs that someone in your life is considering suicide?
Self-isolation and withdrawal are two big warning signs, in addition to someone expressing self-doubt or low self-esteem. Giving away prized items, like a piece of jewelry or something else sentimental can also be cause for concern. Extreme highs and lows should also not be ignored.

My teen is talking about suicide with his peers. This means he’s not really serious, right?
A long-held falsehood is that if someone is talking about suicide, they won’t do it. Suicide is a disease of ambivalence, deciding if you want to be alive or not. If someone in your life is talking about suicide, listen and offer hope. The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network provides a discussion guide for how to talk to your loved ones considering suicide. While we continue to practice social distancing, that isolation can be jarring. By reaching out, asking how someone is doing and opening the dialogue can provide a lifeline for someone in despair.

My teen suspects her friend is depressed. What should she do?
You or your teen should talk to her friend or her parents. Teens are often worried that their friends will get upset for noticing their mental health changes, but you’d rather that friend be mad at you momentarily than take drastic action with a suicide attempt.

What is your number one tip for helping to prevent suicide?
Connectedness! Connectivity is a protective factor; kids and teens who feel involved and like they belong are less likely to die by suicide. Getting people involved in clubs, sports, community groups can give them a sense of belonging.
There is always a warning sign if you ask the questions. If you see something, say something. Suicide can be prevented. You’d rather have an uncomfortable conversation with a loved one than have them take a forever action.

Who can I call for suicide crisis support?
Youth Villages offers a 24/7 crisis support line staffed by master’s-level clinicians who can assess the situation efficiently and effectively, make sure everyone is safe and provide next steps for a care plan, whether that involves in-patient care or a therapy plan. The crisis services staff provides assessment and evaluation of children and youth, up to age 18, who are experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

Our support system state-wide is connected so you and your loved one can benefit from that alignment. Parents or guardians need to be a part of the treatment plan for it to work.

If you know anyone who may be suicidal, the following numbers are great resources that are available 24/7.

Anyone in crisis or searching for help for someone in crisis can call the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Hotline:
1-855-CRISIS-1 (1-855-274-7471)
Crisis TextLine – Text “TN” to 741741
If you are located in another state outside of Tennessee, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
1-800-273-TALK or (1-800-273-8255)

Youth Villages is one of the largest providers of services to children in Tennessee and a national leader in children’s mental and behavioral health. The organization has been recognized by the Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations. Learn more at www.youthvillages.org.
Crisis services are available 24/7 if your child needs support. Call 855-CRISIS-1 or text CONNECT to 741741. If you have thoughts of suicide, contact 1-800-273-TALK to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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