By Kathy Hubbard
“I hate my life, I wish I was dead,” the teen said. But, no one listened. It’s just a phase he’s going through. She’s being a drama queen. He’s acting out again. Well, that may be what friends, family, teachers and parents are thinking and they may be right. But, then again, maybe not.
You see, no one ever knows whether or not a child is thinking about suicide until someone asks them. Yes, it’s a hard question to ask and the answer might be even more difficult to hear, but to quote the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, “youth suicide prevention is everyone’s business.”
They say that awareness starts by learning the FACTS, a mnemonic for the warning signs. Please note that not all children contemplating suicide will display these signs and that there is a huge difference between a red flag flying sign and a subtle, quiet one.
The SPTS explains that the “f” stands for “feelings.” The teen may talk about feeling hopeless, worthless or anxious. He or she may become angry or start worrying about things that would never have bothered them before. They may say they’re trapped, or a burden to others.
“A” stands for “actions.” This means that the teen is looking for a way to end his or her life. Is there an access to guns or pills? Have they begun or increased using alcohol or recreational drugs? Or has the teen become involved in other risky behavior such as driving recklessly?
Changes in mood indicate the “C.” We know that mood swings are typical to teenagers, but sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits can be a warning sign. As can quitting an activity that they previously enjoyed. The child may withdraw from their friends or stop caring about their personal appearance. The teen might start cutting classes or just daydream through them.
“T” is for “threats.” This is when you take seriously the comment that the teen wishes he or she was dead. Listen to words like, “You’d be better off without me around here,” or “I won’t be here much longer.” Monitor your child’s Facebook page, Twitter account and texts to look for worrisome innuendos. Look at their notebooks for poems or drawings about death.
And, finally the “S” is for “situation.” Your teen may have been thinking about suicide for a long time. The situation is the trigger that makes him or her ready to do it. Stressful situations for which the teen can’t see a viable solution such as being in trouble with the law, getting pregnant, being bullied, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or grappling with sexual orientation challenges the child’s coping capabilities.
If you suspect that your child is contemplating suicide, remove any firearms from the home. Discard any opiate prescription drugs. Lock the liquor cabinet.
According to SPTS you should express your concern about what you are observing in the child’s behavior. Like we said before, ask directly about suicide. All of the experts agree that you won’t be bringing up a subject that they haven’t already thought about. You aren’t going to plant a seed.
What you don’t want to do is minimize the importance of what your teen is telling you. No saying, “Don’t be crazy,” or “You’ll get over it,” or worse, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Validate the feelings. Encourage the child to open up.
If you can’t get your child to talk to you, involve an adult they can trust. Give them the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255). Keep it in a conspicuous place.
Then, if you think (even if you’re not sure) that a child intends to harm him or herself, contact his or her pediatrician, take the child to the emergency room or call 911. SPTS says, “Suicide is a preventable problem. By taking the time to notice and reach out to a peer, you can be the beginning of a positive solution.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To see an interesting video produced by Mayo Clinic, Google “You Tube – Teen Suicide Prevention.”