Teenage Suicide and Your Family
Many young people struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety.
‘Young Minds Matter’, the largest survey of mental health and wellbeing of young
people in Australia found that one in five (20%) teenagers aged 11-17 years suffer from high to very high levels of psychological distress. Seven percent of the teens surveyed had anxiety and 5% had depression. One in thirteen children aged 12-17 had seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, one in twelve had self-harmed and one third of those had attempted suicide. Self-harm and suicide attempts were higher in girls and older teens (16-17 years).
In 2016, 67,000 children and young people aged between 5 and 25 received counselling through Kids Helpline. Of those, one in eight received counselling for suicide-related issues.
Given that mental health and suicide is a serious issue that many young people face, let’s talk about the risk factors for suicide, the warning signs and ways of providing support.
RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDE
Risk factors for suicide in teenagers include:
Mental illness and depression
Drug or alcohol abuse
Bullying or problems with friends
Conflict or difficulties at home
Family history of suicide and/or mental illness
EARLY WARNING SIGNS
From the outside, it might seem like the young person doesn’t have any problems or no reason to feel down. Sometimes the issues seem trivial to adults.
The Young Minds Matter survey found that 7.7% of teenagers had major depressive disorder based on information obtained from them. The rate of depression was much less when based on the information from parents, with only 4.7% of teenagers meeting the criteria. This discrepancy suggests that young people may not always feel comfortable speaking with their parents and also, parents may not recognise the signs of distress.
There are often warning signs that a young person is experiencing emotional pain and is thinking about suicide. Signs are not always obvious and it can sometimes be hard to know whether it is part of the usual ups and downs of being a teenager. It might be something that the teenager says or does.
Withdrawing from others e.g., staying in their room, not going out with friends
Talking about death, even if joking
Saying that they feel hopeless, there’s no point living or they want to “end it all”
Drug or alcohol use
Giving possessions away
Talking about suicide
Expressing distress and asking for help
WHAT CAN I DO?
Parents and caregivers can be uncertain about what to do if they believe that their son, daughter or grandchild is having emotional problems or might be at risk of suicide.
Here are some suggestions about what to do and how to help your child:
If the young person is saying that they are unhappy, having difficulty or need help, take them seriously.
If you are worried about your teenager, trust your instincts.
Ask the young person how they are feeling.
Talk openly about feelings. Talking about emotions and asking about suicide will not fill their head with ideas. This is a widely held belief but it is a myth.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Reassure your teenager and let them know that you are there for them.
Tell them you care and want to help.
Educate yourself. Learn about emotional problems in adolescence and how to deal with these.
Speak with the school about your concerns and see how they can support your child day-to-day.
Get professional help. Your doctor can refer your child for counselling.
Take care of your own wellbeing. It can be hard to learn that your child is thinking about suicide. You might feel upset, angry, helpless and overwhelmed. Make sure that you have the support that you need. Talk to a professional for advice about your teenager and consider whether counselling might help you as well as your child.