If you are the friend or parent of a teen who you suspect could be contemplating suicide, then you are probably wondering what, if anything, you can do to help. Although every teen experiences intense or overwhelming emotions, some teens have trouble coping with those emotions. Unfortunately, some of these teens resort to drastic and sometimes tragic measures to force their negative emotions to stop. Below you will find the most important basic facts about teen suicide:
Sometimes the warning signs are hidden.
Most people who suffer from depression do not commit suicide. However, most people who commit suicide do suffer from depression. As a result, some of the warning signs for a suicidal teen could be similar to the warning signs for a depressed teen. Therefore, if a teen is depressed, it is important that you watch very carefully for the indicators that they could be suicidal. A teen could be contemplating suicide if they…
- Intentionally distance themselves from friends and family
- Talk about leaving or going away
- Admit to feeling hopeless about their life or future
- Participate in uncharacteristic self-destructive activities like drugs, dangerous partying, intentionally erratic driving, etc.
It should be taken very seriously.
If your friend displays any of all of the warning signs detailed above (or gives you any other reason to suspect that they could be contemplating suicide), then it is important that you take the issue seriously. Although it is true that some teenagers who talk about killing themselves never take action, the mere possibility that one could should be enough to motivate you to act to prevent it. If a teen talks about committing suicide or threatens to do so, please do not take their words lightly, even if they make such threats regularly. Many teens admit to making several suicide attempts, and often those attempts build in intensity over time. These attempts- however halfhearted- are often meant to show people that they are serious and to help them work up their courage for the “real thing.” Many of these threats and attempts are cries for attention, so please, give them that attention, and do your best to help.
You can help.
Even if you’re just a teen yourself, there are things you can do to help a teen who talks about suicide. First, let the teen know that you care about them and that they deserve to get help and to be happy. Listen to whatever they have to say, and try to be as understanding and accepting as possible. Do not minimize their problems (“I’m sure things aren’t that bad.”), and instead simply listen with kindness. You should also refer them to any of the numerous resources for suicidal teens, such as suicide help hotlines or websites.
Suicidal teens often benefit from therapy and professional assistance, so it’s also important for you to contact someone who can help them. If the teen talks about suicide in a general sense (“I sometimes think it would be easy to just overdose on pills.”), contact someone who can help them as soon as possible. School counselors, therapists, parents, and other trusted adults are all smart options. Do your best to be as discreet and respectful during this process because the last thing a suicidal teen needs is to have a spotlight placed on them by their peers, causing them to feel judged or ridiculed. This is important even if the individual has sworn you to secrecy. Remember, saving their life is much more important than keeping their secret, and more than likely, they will eventually forgive you when they realize that what they once considered to be a breach of trust was actually a testament to how trustworthy you truly are.
If the suicidal teen contacts you saying that they are contemplating suicide in the immediate sense (“I’ve got the pills in my hand.”), then contact whomever is necessary to stop them. Call their parents immediately, and if they are not available and you have sufficient reason to believe that the person really is presently contemplating or attempting suicide, do not hesitate to contact an ambulance or the police. Remember, it would be much better to call the police for a false alarm and deal with the embarrassment than to talk yourself out of calling the police and have to deal with the guilt should the individual actually make good on their suicide threat.