Teens and Suicide: What Parents Should Know

  • By Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

Research has shown that suicide is the third leading cause of death among American adolescents. One million teens attempts suicide each year and the incidence of suicide attempts reaches a peak during the mid-adolescent years. More girls them boys attempt suicide, but more boys succeed in killing themselves. The statistics are terrifying and unfortunately there is still a stigma which surrounds mental illness, preventing kids from getting the help they need.

For those parents that have been lucky enough to spot the warning signs early and are seeking treatment, please know that family therapy is the most effective type of therapy. Adolescents with suicidal thoughts, have much better therapeutic results and a greater reduction in symptoms, when treated with family therapy, as opposed to one on one individual therapy. It’s incredibly important for the family, mainly the parents, to be involved in a suicidal teens treatment.

The goal of family therapy is to work on strengthening the parent-child relationship. The parents are a key component to helping the teen overcome their problem. In family therapy the teen will reconnect with their parents and with the help of the therapist, learn to articulate the immense pain they are feeling. A family therapist will facilitate a dialogue and encourage the teenager to begin to talk openly to their parents. Throughout sessions, the teen will learn how to process their own emotions, entertain new perspectives and develop better strategies to manage their feelings.

Once a teenager has opened up in family therapy, parents will learn how to respond in ways that encourage further and continued disclosures from their teen. Communication skills like empathy, curiosity, openness and an ability to handle a child’s anguish, all play an important role in strengthening the parent-child relationship. When a child feels heard, they feel less alone and more valued.  They will be more likely to turn to their parents the next time they need support.

Teenagers who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. If you think your teen might be suicidal it’s crucial to take immediate action. Talk with him or her and ask them directly how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Do not be afraid to use the word suicide. Using the word will not plant ideas in your teenager’s head. If you think your teen is in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. The following is a list of some of the potential warning signs.

  • Threats to commit suicide or harm oneself in some way
  • Making a plan to commit suicide
  • Acquiring the means to commit suicide (e.g., gathering pills, getting a gun, etc.)
  • Rehearsing or practicing the act of suicide
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about, joking about, writing about, or drawing about death
  • Withdrawing from social activities or friendships
  • Losing interest in normal, fun everyday activities
  • Giving away important personal items
  • Changes in personality or mood

For free and confidential support (24/7) call National Suicide Prevention Hotline  1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Therapist who has been working with teens and their families for 15 years. To schedule a free phone consultation call 872-222-3132