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Healthy Kids: Preventing teen suicide

(Adobe Stock photo provided by Kelli Warner)

Adolescence is a risky time for kids because there’s so much in their lives that’s changing, physically, emotionally and socially. Teens are much more likely to be influenced by their peers, and more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges, which puts them at a higher risk for suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10-24, with accidents and homicides being the leading causes.

“Developmentally, teens are at a time in their life where their bodies are going through a lot chemically. Their sleep patterns are changing, the stressors they face at school are significant,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates.

In adolescence, the brain’s prefrontal cortex is still developing, so teenagers are more impulsive, their emotions more intense, and the pressures and problems they face often feel overwhelming.

“What’s hard, I think, as a parent, is knowing, ‘OK, when are the ups and downs I’m observing normal and when should I be worried?’” she says.

Pay attention to these mental health “Red Flags”

Kids often show signs that they are struggling mentally or emotionally. Watch for these indicators:

Excessive changes in behavior that are sharply out of character for your teen, such as disproportionate moodiness, aggression or anger, recklessness or hopelessness.

Becoming withdrawn: Your child is no longer interested in activities or hobbies that they once enjoyed.

Changes in sleep patterns: Too much sleeping (beyond the usual teen fatigue), difficulty sleeping or insomnia.

A negative change in school performance.

“A big red flag is that they’re talking about it,” says Liz Schwarz, the clinical director for Looking Glass Youth & Family Services in Eugene. “If they’re saying things like ‘I don’t want to be here, I feel like a burden,’ or flat out ‘I want to kill myself,’ that needs to be taken seriously.”

Schwarz says mental health issues are common in teenagers, and the pressures and difficulties of adolescence are compounded by social media, where kids are often bullied or verbally abused by their peers. She says it’s key that parents pay attention, recognize changes in their teen, and be aware that there’s help available.

“I think there’s a stigma kids feel when they think, ‘I’m crazy,’ or, ‘I have this mental health thing going on.’ The truth is, a lot of people are dealing with the same issues and feelings. It’s prevalent, so the more we talk about it, the more we can hear from others that they’ve experienced the same thing and that you’re not alone. There are people who can help.”

Don’t hesitate, seek help

If you are concerned, contact your teen’s medical provider and encourage your child to talk openly with them.

“There will be a portion of that visit when you are going to be asked to step out of the room, and some of the most important questions your doctor is going to ask your teen is, ‘How sad are you? How down are you? Has the thought of suicide ever even crossed your mind?’ Because if it has, that puts your kid at a much higher level of concern for us,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Local Resources

If you think your teen may be suicidal, don’t hesitate to reach out. There are many local resources and trained professionals available to help.

  • Looking Glass Station 7 Help Line: 1-888-689-3111
  • Children & Adolescents Mental Health Crisis Response Program: 1-888-989-9990
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • White Bird Clinic Crisis Line: 541-687-4000
  • CAHOOTS Mobile Crisis Services: 541-682-5111
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