Editorial: Parents, please talk about suicide prevention

Column By Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Suicide is the second leading cause of death between children ages 10 to18 in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

A recent finding in a 2019 Pediatrics journal article found that surveyed parents were clueless about the suicidal thoughts of their children. In interviews with more than 5,000 Philadelphia-area children ages 11 to 17 and their parents, researchers found that among the teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 50 percent of their moms and dads said they were unaware. www.pediatrics.aappublications.org.

And the number of children and teens being hospitalized for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts doubled between 2007 and 2015, according to data analysis and a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Let’s dispel a major myth. Discussing suicide prevention and education with your children will not plant the idea into their minds. On the contrary, open conversation is imperative. And it’s not a one-time conversation. How many parents reading this column have engaged in direct conversations with their children about suicidal thoughts/plans? It’s called prevention.

Parents are communicating more about alcohol and drugs. Parents are communicating more about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual assault. Why not about suicide prevention?

It’s time to communicate about suicide prevention and intervention with your children. In addition to knowing the warning signs of depression and suicide, parents need to find local information about suicide prevention. Parents can guide their children on what to do if their friends talk about death by suicide. Education, information, and conversation are vital. Any comment by a child or adolescent about wanting to kill self should be taken seriously. If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately.

Will Trautwein, a teen, is the inspiration behind the Will To Live Foundation. He died by suicide. “John Trautwein and his family have taken the most difficult tragedy a family can know, and turned it into a message to help us all. Our kids are at risk and we need to make sure they always have a will to live, and the Will To Live Foundation’s Life Teammates message is helping to make this happen.” www.will-to-live.org.

According to the American Psychological Association, several factors increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors, including mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, alcohol and substance use, impulsive behaviors, history of trauma or abuse, family history of suicide, and previous suicide attempt(s). www.apa.org.

The major warning signs for suicide include threatening to hurt or kill oneself, seeking a means to kill oneself, hopelessness, increasing alcohol or drug use, and dramatic mood changes. To learn about warning signs that may not be so obvious, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. www.afsp.org.

What can parents do? “While death is an uncomfortable subject for many people, it is important to be able to talk about it openly and honestly…Talking about suicide can help youth see the other options they have. There should be no fear in talking to young people about suicide.” Look for The Jason Foundations Parent Resource Program on their website www.jasonfoundation.com.

According to the Kids Health website, the risk of suicide increases dramatically when children and teens have access to firearms at home, and nearly 60 percent of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. That’s why any gun in your home should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens. www.kidshealth.org.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Parents, keep talking about suicide prevention.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Southern Ohio.

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