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Protecting Teenagers from Suicide

How can you help identify the warning signs of suicide in a teenager and make sure he or she gets help? Here are some straightforward guidelines you can follow.

Many students feel like they can't go on another day. Unfortunately, they see suicide as the only way out. To say that feelings of suicide are a common feeling is an overstatement, but we must understand that it is a solution that many overwhelmed teenagers contemplate. The question is: How can you help identify the warning signs of suicide in a teenager and make sure he or she gets help? Here are some straightforward guidelines you can follow.

Trust your 'gut'

Don't ignore suicidal signals. Be willing to ask, "Have you ever thought about killing yourself?" without being afraid that you will encourage the teen to do so. The best thing you can do for a suicidal teen is to get him to talk about desires to "quit" life. Sometimes bringing it out into the open is the biggest relief to the individual. Don't listen to what the person is saying as much as you listen to why he is saying it.

Recognize the signs

Look for the following warning signs that point toward a suicidal individual.

  • Talking about dying
  • Sudden, drastic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • An "I don't care" attitude
  • Constant tiredness
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Giving away possessions
  • Changes in grades, personality, and friends
  • Destructive behavior
  • Statements such as "I wish I weren't alive" or "Nobody cares."
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Hostility
  • Persistent boredom

Remember that a person may not be suicidal just because he/she exhibits one of these signs. Generally, the behaviors are more complex and several of these symptoms occur at once.

Help find the source

Help the teen seek what triggered the suicidal thoughts. Sometimes they tire of their ongoing depression. It may be that they feel extremely hopeless. Frequently they experience the sense of failure in school, in after-school sports, or after an episode with the police. Other times it's in response to a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Still others respond with suicidal thoughts right after the death of a parent or close friend, or because of an unwanted pregnancy.

Tell a professional

Never promise to maintain secrecy where suicide is concerned. The reason people tell others they want to die is because they want help. Talking with a mental health professional can help the student without judging him, talking him out of his pain, or arguing with him. Keep a good relationship with a local therapist, specifically one who works well with teens in crisis.

Stay with the teen

When a youth is discussing a suicide plan, stay with her until she is in a safe place with trained mental health professionals. Assure the teen that you care enough to stay with her until she can get some help, unless you might be in some sort of danger.

Find a reason to live

Help the teen find a reason why he should continue to live. Help him understand he is not bad or weak because of his thoughts. Remind him that he is not crazy, either. Avoid telling him that his problems do not merit suicide. Helping him find a way to reduce pain or learn coping skills can provide the necessary hope that he needs to choose life.

Express your appreciation for the teen

Tell this person how much you appreciate her. Point our her qualities you admire. Tell her how much you and others would miss her if she was gone. Ask her to tell you what suicide would accomplish for every person involved in her life. Have her set some short-term goals that involve interaction with others (for example, "On Friday, will you meet me for lunch?").

Once you have dealt with the immediate crisis, ask if the teen would mind a personal follow-up from you. Remember that this person does not need any more disappointments or experiences of rejection. Call when you say you will call. If there is no answer, leave an encouraging message.