Teen suicide reached an all-time high in the U.S. with more than 6,000 young adults age 15 to 24 taking their lives in 2017. That’s why it’s critical for parents, educators – and anyone who
cares about teens – to be proactive when it comes to mental health and suicide. Candid conversations about tough topics – from depression to bullying to peer pressure to suicide – are the most effective way to encourage your teen to come to you when he or she is struggling. Here’s what you should remember when you start that conversation.
It’s critical to notice when your child is showing signs of depression or mental illness. Amidst
teen angst and hormone shifts, notice major changes in sleep; a loss of interest in activities;
unpredictable mood swings; changes in eating habits; or if your teen seems to be isolating from
others, it’s time to speak up. Be frank - kids are smart. And many will appreciate you not beating around the bush.
Start with, “I noticed you’re not hanging out with your friends very much anymore,” or “You seem to be sleeping a lot more lately.” Follow it up immediately with open-ended questions, “How is everything?”; “Let’s talk about it.”; or “How can I help?” to avoid the tried-and-true teenage art of shutting you down with a one-word response.
Too often, we approach conversations with young people by offering a long-winded lecture that most teens tune out within seconds. Instead, ask questions and listen thoughtfully to what your child is saying –and just as importantly, what he/she isn’t.
Chances are, whatever your teen tells you is likely just the tip of the iceberg. To understand what’s lurking beneath the surface, you may need to read between the lines. For example, if your child says, “These kids have been kind of mean to me online, it’s no big deal,” the issue is probably affecting your teen more than she’s letting on.
The best way to make your child stop communicating is to get upset or panicked when he does. As a parent, it’s normal to feel angry, worried or downright terrified when your child tells you about using drugs, having sex, experiencing bullying, or feeling depressed. But getting emotional will only make your child feel like this issue really is insurmountable. Responding with calm, rational questions is what will help both of you get the help he or she needs.
Feeling like they can’t “fix” their child’s problems can be difficult for parents. But when it comes to some things – like depression and other mental illnesses, abuse and suicide ideation – it’s likely you can’t. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fixed – or treated at the very least. If your child tells you she’s struggling, it’s unlikely she’s expecting you to make it all better.
What your teen is asking for is your support. How you help your child depends on the issues he’s facing, but being willing to find professional help is critical when your teen needs it. If your teen is engaging in self-harm, reckless behaviors, abusing drugs and/or alcohol, struggling with an eating disorder, experiencing gender confusion or showing signs of depression, find help for your child immediately. A trained professional will evaluate the situation and help you both take the steps necessary for treatment.
Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out when You or Your Friend Is in Crisis by Kristi Hugstad, a certified grief recovery specialist. Visit her online at Thegriefgirl.com. Available at NewWorldLibrary.com.