by Rachelle Tannenbaum
What do parents need to know about suicide? The Parenting Center is working in collaboration with community agencies to support parents with regard to this issue; this article is one part of that effort. Angie Antoniak is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice focused on supporting children, adolescents and their parents. Before having her own children, she worked directly with youth and families in elementary, middle, and high schools. With over 10 years of experience, Angie has encountered children and teens expressing the wish to die and has worked closely with them and their families to get the care that they need.
For further discussion and information about preventing youth suicide in our community, the Parenting Center is offering a free seminar for parents in May. You may also be interested in our free course “Parenting the Middle School Child.” For more details, see our flier.PDF
SUICIDE PREVENTION: WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW
by Angie Antoniak
It is painful to think of anyone considering ending his or her life, but unfortunately it is an all-too-real phenomenon. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds.
In response to an increase in suicide related threats and suicides in our county, a letter was recently sent to all parents in the AACPS requesting that parents look for the warning signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, be aware of their children’s use of technology, and carefully observe their children’s activities and behavior. Upon receiving this letter,PDF many families got help for their children showing signs of distress. A key to preventing suicide is getting help before your child is in a crisis state.
Know the warning signs of suicide. Displaying a warning sign does not automatically mean that a person is going to attempt suicide, but these signs should be taken very seriously. The more signs that are present, the greater the risk.
- Threatening suicide and/or expressing a strong wish to die. This can be done verbally, in writing, or electronically in e-mails, text messages, or on web sites such as Facebook. A suicide note is a significant sign of danger. The message can be direct or indirect such as hinting at not being around in the future.
- Making a plan, giving away prized possessions, and/or obtaining means for killing oneself.
- A preoccupation with death (excessive talking, reading, or writing about death).
- Unexpected outbursts of rage or anger.
- Impulsive behavior that shows a disregard for personal safety.
- Agitation which can be described as seeming unusually “on edge,” restless, intolerant, or uncomfortable.
- Signs of depression:
- depressed mood or sadness virtually all of the time (for what may seem like no reason)
- inability to enjoy things that used to bring pleasure
- withdrawal from friends and family
- significant change in sleep patterns (inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get up in the morning)
- pessimism and indifference (not caring about anything in the present or future)
- hopelessness (feeling that there is no way that things can get better)
- Increased alcohol or drug use.
- Previous suicide attempts or indications of an attempt (such as injuries or illness that may have been self-inflicted).
Know what is happening in your child’s life. Communication is so very important. Youth suicides sometimes occur in response to an incident or pattern of incidents that are considered to be a crisis by the teen such as breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death or suicide of a friend or family member, being bullied, conflict and chaos at home, academic difficulties, or abuse.
Know what your child is doing online. Consider keeping computer use in public areas of the house. Kids can easily connect online with youth who share common interests. For those with suicidal ideation, this can be fatal. Web sites exist that glorify suicide and even provide “how-to” instructions. Kids who frequent memorial pages of victims of suicide may be engaging in suicidal thinking themselves.
Know the pitfalls of text messaging. Consider limiting your child’s texting activity. Some parents do not allow their kids to have cell phones in their rooms. Some adolescents send text messages to each other through the night and into the wee hours of the morning when they are alone and unsupervised. If distressed teens reinforce each other’s depressive state through messages and images, this can lead to suicidal behavior. Also, lack of sleep can aggravate depression.
Know your child’s environment. Over 50% of suicide deaths involve firearms. Any guns your child could access should be unloaded and secured with a trigger lock or in a safe. Similarly, medications should not be accessible. Medication overdose accounts for one in ten suicide deaths.
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