How to Recognize Suicidal Thoughts in Your Teenager
Research shows that nearly 1 in 5 high school students have experienced serious thoughts of suicide, and 1 in 10 have made an attempt to end their lives. As a parent, these statistics likely seem downright scary. You love your child and undoubtedly want to keep them happy, healthy, and safe.
Recognizing suicidal thoughts is crucial. Having this awareness can help you understand your child and get them the support they need. Keep in mind that teenagers often present with certain symptoms for many months or years before making an attempt.
Understanding the Nature of Suicidal Thoughts
Suicide is rarely impulsive. Teenagers often feel torn about their distressing thoughts before deciding to attempt to end their lives.
Likewise, suicidal thoughts don't always indicate the plan or intent to die. Some people experience passive suicidal ideation. For example, they might assume they'd be better off dead or that nobody would miss them if they were gone. But these thoughts are typically intrusive and don't lead to suicidal actions.
That said, parents may not know the difference. Furthermore, teenagers aren't always upfront about how they feel. You may think that something is wrong, but some symptoms also mimic typical teenage mood swings.
If you ever feel uncertain about your child's circumstances, don't be afraid to share your concerns directly. Don't shy away from using the word suicide. Parents often worry that asking about suicide can plant ideas or trigger suicidal behavior. But research shows that isn't true. And being direct with communication models that you are comfortable talking about this subject.
Teen Suicide Risk Factors
Teenagers may be at a heightened risk for feeling suicidal if they:
have a history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
have a family history of suicide
have direct access to weapons or other lethal means, including medication
have chronic illness or pain
identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
attempted suicide in the past
abuse mood-altering substances like drugs or alcohol
have a history of being bullied
Common Suicidal Symptoms in Teenagers
It's important to remember that a single symptom doesn't inherently mean your teenager is considering suicide. These symptoms can sometimes be developmentally normal. Or, they may indicate the presence of a mental health issue without suicidal thoughts.
Instead, you want to examine patterns and clusters of symptoms. You also want to pay attention to significant behavioral changes that appear to worsen progressively.
Here are some common symptoms:
Expressions of Guilt
Teenagers experiencing suicidal thoughts may present as worrying about being burdensome or annoying to others. They might express feeling guilty for being a "bad son or daughter" or not living up to certain expectations. This guilt often coincides with depression, which can be a precursor of suicidal ideation.
Many teenagers act recklessly from time to time. It's normal for them to want to assert their autonomy and individuate themselves from their families. But excessive risk-taking could indicate that your teenager doesn't value their life. This symptom, especially if it emerges suddenly, shouldn't be ignored.
Sudden Academic Problems
If your teenager's grades drop, it could mean school feels harder. But it could also mean they no longer feel motivated to study, participate in class, or ask for help on certain topics. This symptom is particularly noteworthy in high-achieving students. So, if your Straight-A high-schooler is suddenly failing multiple classes, it's time to take their mental health into consideration.
Themes of Hopelessness
Teenagers who feel suicidal often feel hopeless about things ever getting better. As a result, they might make globally negative statements like, what's the point, or, things will never change. Feeling this discouraged can exacerbate depression and trigger suicidal ideation.
Giving Away Belongings
If your teenager suddenly seems frantic about spring cleaning or donating their favorite items, pay attention. This is a common symptom of people who feel suicidal. It's often an attempt to get things in order ahead of time.
Frequent Mood Swings
Mood swings can be a symptom of nearly any mental health issue, but they can be particularly concerning when it comes to suicidal thoughts. Some people experience a sense of emotional brightening or euphoria just before making an attempt. This can happen if they feel a sense of relief about what they are going to do.
Talking About Suicide or Death
Some people overlook a person talking about suicide by assuming that someone who feels serious about ending their life wouldn't openly talk about it. But many teenagers talk directly or indirectly about their plans. Their disclosure could indicate a literal plea for attention, so don't dismiss the conversation or assume they're overreacting.
Withdrawing From Loved Ones
Suicidal thoughts can cause people to isolate themselves from their friends and family. This withdrawal is often in response to fear or shame. It can also come from not wanting to be a burden. So, if your teenager is pulling away from family or their usual peer group, it's important to assess the situation further.
Getting Your Teenager the Help They Need
At The Resurface Group, we take adolescent suicide and mental health seriously. We know parents don't always know the right answers regarding their child's mental health. That's okay, and that's why we're here to help.
Our dynamic program specializes in individualized care and dynamic family support for our clients. We provide comprehensive treatment, and we will help all of you communicate and support one another appropriately. Contact us today to learn more.
If you're concerned about your child's immediate safety, call 911 or get in touch with the suicide prevention hotline immediately. In the US, you can call or text 988 24/7 to access confidential, free resources.