Did you know that in the past two decades, suicide among youth has increased throughout the United States? Did you know that it is the second leading cause of death among persons 15-19 years in the United States, just after accidents? And that rates doubled for youth between 10-14 years from 2007 to 2014? Did you know that suicide risk is four times higher among youth who identify as LGBTQ+? Did you know that Emergency Department visits among youth for suicidal ideation or attempts increased during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Finally, did you know that suicide is preventable? That suicide prevention is a community effort—much like the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” proverb.” Suicide prevention requires the awareness and participation of all those who mentor our youth, not just parents/families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite seven strategies for suicide prevention:
- Strengthen economic supports (e.g. ensure financial security for the household).
- Strengthen access to and delivery of suicide care (e.g. offer education, assessment, and treatment in schools, clinics, and other community venues).
- Create protective environments (e.g. reduce access to lethal means of self-harm by locking up and securing weapons).
- Promote connectedness (e.g. involve youth in community activities and programs; create regular family activities).
- Teach coping and problem-solving skills (e.g. share/teach ways that you cope with stress; involve youth in counseling, groups, and educational programs).
- Identify and support people at risk (e.g. train community members to identify and respond to suicide risk).
- Lessen harms and prevent future risk (e.g. surround at risk individuals with supports).
The American Psychological Association offers these tips for parents concerned with suicidality in their child:
Express your concern. Talking to youth about concerns of suicide does not plant the idea in their head. Being open and honest is the most important way to show your concern. If you suspect your child is struggling, inquire about suicide using a direct approach (e.g. Have you had thoughts of suicide? Have you thought about how you would do this? Have you done anything to hurt yourself?)
Maintain connection. Isolation exacerbates suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Time spent with others — be they peers, family, or community members — safeguards at risk youth from further isolation. Extra time with your child shows that you are genuinely concerned with his/her emotional well-being.
Be compassionate. Validate your child’s pain or suffering while communicating your value of preserving life. Let them know that you will support them and love them despite their having thoughts of death or self-harm. Refrain from guilt statements—“Don’t you know how much this will hurt me?” or “But you have so much to live for”—as these might decrease communication with your child.
Trust your judgment. If your child denies having suicidal thoughts, but your “gut instinct” suggests otherwise, trust your intuition and take further steps to ensure safety.
Prioritize safety. For all serious concerns, go with adage, “Safety First.” Remove access to any means of self-harm (most importantly, weapons), ensure that your child is not left alone, and make immediate contact with a professional to further evaluate for safety concerns (e.g. Emergency Department, Mental Health Clinic).
For more resources on youth suicide and how to prevent it: