Talking about suicide: It’s time to step outside your comfort zone- Dean - WI

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Published on August 10, 2017

Talking about suicide: It’s time to step outside your comfort zone

It may be one of the most difficult topics to discuss, but statistics show suicide is certainly on the minds of many people. Over a lifetime, half of Americans will have suicide ideation. In other words, they’ll simply think that suicide might be an answer to their problems. The highest suicide rates are among adults between 45-64 years of age, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The second-highest rates occur in those 85 years or older. Adolescents and young adults traditionally trail those groups, but this doesn’t underscore the importance of getting troubled kids the help they need and deserve.

A changing landscape?

The rise of the internet has changed the way people, especially teens, think about and research suicide. Some high-profile events in 2017 have brought even more attention to the issue, notably the popularity of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.” The streaming television show chronicles a teenage girl’s decision to commit suicide. If your child turns to the internet after watching the show, it may be for good reason.

“Teens could be searching for more about the warning signs of suicide, which suggests they are wanting to support the people they care about,” says SSM Health psychologist Dr. Robert Peyton. “Other interest is less likely to be beneficial, such as a search for how to commit suicide.”

Kids doing the latter search may be in real danger. Others could just be curious or coping with their own fears of death by facing it this way. Showing interest alone does not mean a person will attempt suicide. While 50% of Americans will have suicidal thoughts at some point, 10% will attempt suicide (and the vast majority of those attempts are not completed.)

“Both numbers are disturbingly high and suggest there is a lot of very real pain in our society,” notes Dr. Peyton. “The numbers confirm that the topic needs to be taken seriously and talked about in the family setting.”

How can you tell if someone is in danger?

There are numerous indicators someone might show, but one overarching sign is losing interest in the things they enjoy. Other things parents can watch out for:

  • Taking a high number of risks, especially extreme risks.
  • Deepening depression - Although sometimes there will be a paradoxical improvement in mood and energy just before a suicide attempt.
  • Engaging in self-harm or other self-destructive behavior - This can be part of a process where someone is “working themselves up” to a suicide attempt.
  • Expressing feelings of helplessness without hope for improvement.
  • Talking about suicide or a preoccupation with death.
  • Withdrawal from others.
  • Visiting people who are important in their life, or giving away important possessions.

Some groups of young people are at greater risk of suicide. Those who have had a close friend, family member, or someone they look up to commit suicide are more likely to do it themselves. Anyone with drug or alcohol problems is also at a higher risk, along with those with preexisting mental health challenges.

Seemingly healthy kids can also go through struggles, from things you might brush off as trivial.

“A teen who recently had a relationship end could be at greater risk,” says Dr. Peyton. “It may seem like ‘puppy love’ to you, but try to remember that time in your life and how truly painful losing first loves can be.”

If your child is searching for suicide information, how do you react?

First things first, do not immediately assume that your child is thinking of committing suicide. They may be concerned about somebody else or they may just be curious. It is not appropriate to immediately take them to the emergency room, but it is something that needs to be discussed in a calm way.

Dr. Peyton recommends these steps for a clear conversation:

  1. Ask your child directly if they are thinking of killing themselves, and if they have a plan. These may be the toughest questions you’ve ever asked your child. But research shows that asking them directly is not linked to increased risk of suicide, and in fact, can decrease the likelihood.
  2. Ask your child why they were looking up the information. Try not to give them the answer to this question yourself. Hear what they have to say, even if it is uncomfortable.
  3. After hearing from them, express your feelings. Tell them how much you love them and how much it would hurt you if you lost them.
  4. Offer your help. In some way, let them know that you will be there for them no matter what their problems are. If they are concerned about another child, take this seriously but work with them to come up with a plan to help, rather than taking it over yourself.
  5. Don’t let the problem be brushed off. If your child acts like everything is ok, do not immediately accept this. If you have serious concerns, consider seeking professional help. 

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Related Services

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Time for Kids in the News

Recent videos and news articles about Time for Kids, as covered by the media.

Back-to-school mental health phone bank takes calls, WISC-TV, August 31, 2017

Talking about suicide: It's time to step outside your comfort zone,, August 10, 2017

Mom continues son's story to end stigma of mental illness, WISC-TV, July 21, 2017

Striking summer balance: Maintaining healthy schedule for kids, WISC-TV, June 29, 2017

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