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How to Talk to Teens

Teens Deal with Stressful Times in Different Ways

How to Say It to Teens
by Richard Heyman, Ed.D.

A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Years by Susan Panzarine

by Tania K. Cowling

Teens, at some time in their lives, will experience periods of anxiety, sadness, and despair. These are normal reactions to the pain of loss, rejection, or disappointment. However, teens with serious mental illness will often experience much more extreme reactions, some that can leave them embroiled in hopelessness. And when all hope is lost, teens can feel that suicide is the only solution. It isn’t!

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, scientific data has shown that almost all people who take their own lives have a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder, and the majority have more than one disorder. Therefore, the feelings that often lead to suicide are highly treatable. This is why it is so important to better understand the symptoms to look for in these disorders.

There are many behavioral indicators that can help parents and friends recognize the threat of suicide in a teen. Even though some of these symptoms are not always a precursor of a dangerous mental illness, they shouldn’t be overlooked. If these symptoms seem unusual for your teen,
PLEASE seek help:

  • Extreme personality changes
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Significant loss or gain in appetite
  • Difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
  • Sadness, irritability, or indifference
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Extreme anxiety or panic
  • Aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior
  • Poor school performance
  • Hallucinations or unusual beliefs

If you suspect that your teenager might be thinking about suicide, do not remain silent. Suicide is preventable, but you must act quickly.

  • Ask your teenager about his unusual behaviors.
  • Work on a close, positive relationship with your child. This can be a life-saving safety valve to the depressed and troubled youth.
  • Don’t be afraid to say the word “suicide” if you think it may be an option. Getting the word out in the open may help your teen think someone has heard his cries for help. Support and early intervention can be effective in this matter.
  • Reassure your teen that you love him. Remind your child that no matter how awful his problems seem, they can be worked out, and you are willing to help.
  • Ask your teen to talk about his problems. Listen carefully. Do not dismiss the problems or get angry.
  • Remove all potentially lethal weapons from your home, including guns, pills, kitchen utensils, and ropes.
  • Seek professional help. Ask your teen’s doctor to guide you. A variety of outpatient and hospital-based treatment programs are available.

Here are two important phone numbers that your teen should be aware of if he needs help. If your teen is in a serious crisis, take him directly to the nearest emergency room.

  • A national crisis hotline links callers to local crisis centers: 1-800-SUICIDE.
  • For crisis hotline help, call the Covenant House nine-line: 1-800-999-9999
  • We can guide our children toward their own problem-solving skills, their own reasoning techniques, and help them arrive at their own unique solutions.

Teenage Suicide: Identification, Intervention and Prevention ERIC Identifier ED266338 Author Lori J. Peters

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