Judy Edouard is educating families on how to prevent suicide in youth.
By Judy Edouard, MSc, Psychological Associate (supervised practice)
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children, adolescents, and young adults (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2019). For instance, male youth between the ages of 15 and 19 account for up to 70% of suicide-related deaths. Similarly, female youth of a similar age account for 72% of self-harm hospitalizations. As such, it is important for parents to be aware of the possible risk factors associated with suicidal behaviours in youth.
Risks factors for suicidal behaviours in youth can involve, but are not limited to, the following:
- Prolonged stress and mental health difficulties (e.g., depression, anxiety, substance use/abuse, trauma).
- Lack of validation of mental health concerns from family members or friends.
- Access to lethal means.
- Issues related to gender identity.
- Feeling isolated from others.
Parents and health care providers may be in a position to identify a youth who might attempt suicide. Such warning signs can include:
- Talking about unbearable pain.
- Talking about feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or being a burden to others.
- Isolating oneself and withdrawing from usual activities.
- Engaging in risky, reckless, and/or self-harm behaviours.
- Talking about wanting to die.
- Saying good-bye or giving up possessions.
- Past history of suicidal ideation/behaviour.
If you suspect that your youth may be suicidal, there are numerous ways that you can help them:
- Be open to talking to them, validating their feelings, and reassuring them that together things will get better.
- Don’t pass judgement or criticize.
- Let them know that they are important, and life is worth living.
- Minimize conflict between you and your youth and focus on making positive connections.
- Discourage isolation. Encourage extracurricular activities, spending time with family and friends, etc.
- Closely monitor them and their behaviours.
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle by helping your teen in eating well, exercising, and having a regular bedtime routine.
- Safely store firearms, alcohol, and medication to limit their access.
- Connect them with a mental health professional for safety planning, monitoring of their suicidality, and developing coping skills.
- Call a crisis line or bring them to the emergency department at the hospital if they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else.
Know that youth are better able to cope when they have the support of their family. It also is important to know that most problems are temporary and can be overcome with the appropriate supports.