If You Think Your Child Might Be Suicidal
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After I wrote about teen suicide a few weeks ago, Kimberly posted this comment:
"What are the signs of a suicidal teen? I would like to know where to find information on the red flags of a suicidal teen. My son has been experimenting with pot lately and I keep talking with him about this and he keeps on doing it, which I am totally against especially in my house. I do not know where to go from here. He also stays in his room for hours on end and does not go outside. This bothers me and I have tried to get him to go out with friends or with me to different places and he does sometimes but the times that he is in his room gets to me and makes me wonder if he would ever have thoughts of suicide. I am hoping and praying that he does not."
Kimberly, you ask a great question, and I'm sure lots of other parents are wondering about the same things. It can be incredibly distressing for a parent to watch a child, trying to find signs of either "just a normal teenage phase," or evidence of true despair that needs professional help.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has good information on , as well as information on and a variety of other conditions, including information on . The American Academy of Pediatrics is also a good source of information on preventing teenage suicide, as well as warning signs of suicide, and pot use.
These are two very reputable sources, and a good place to start. However, I’m going to be really honest with you:
Nothing beats a competent professional evaluation of a child who you worry might be considering suicide.
It's a funny thing. We don't hesitate to take our kids in if we think they have an ear infection or appendicitis or a broken leg or diabetes or leukemia. But conditions like depression or substance abuse or suicidality still carry such a stigma in our society that a lot of us hesitate to get our kids help for these kinds of things.
I'm not saying it's easy to tell your teenager that you want them to get a psychiatric evaluation. But I can tell you this for sure — even thoughthatmay be difficult, none of the parents I know have ever regretted taking their child in for an evaluation and then receiving reassurance that all was well.
But parents who balk at taking their child in for evaluation, only to have their child either cycle deeper and deeper into depression, or actually attempt suicide, or become more entrenched in a drug or alcohol problem — those parents often look back and wonder how their child's story would have proceeded if they'd only taken a deep breath and insisted that their child get an evaluation.
One possible place to start is your family doctor or pediatrician. You could touch base with him or her before an appointment, and explain your concerns. Then let your doctor assess your son and guide you.
An important caveat — if you ever think your child is actively contemplating suicide, move quickly. Here are what the experts suggest you do in this situation:
- Don't leave your child alone for a minute.
- Ask him if he intends to hurt himself.
- Tell him that problems can be worked out, that you can work with him to make his life better, more hopeful.
- Be kind, comforting, don't yell, but be firm in your insistence that he must promise to keep himself safe and not hurt himself.
- Remove all weapons from the home.
- Call the National Suicide Hotline for advice (1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433; 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255).
- If your own doctor can't see your child immediately, take him straight to the emergency room for evaluation.
Kimberly — and all the other parents out there — I wish you the absolute best in your efforts to keep your children safe and to figure out what they may need at this point in their lives.
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