Ask a Doc: How do I talk to my teenager about suicide?

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Ask a Doc: How do I talk to my teenager about suicide?

Health and Safety

Ask a Doc: How do I talk to my teenager about suicide?

Question: Should parents be concerned about high-profile suicide stories in the media, like the popular YouTuber  Logan Paul’s release of a suicide victim video  or the 13 Reasons Why series?

Answer:  Excessive media coverage of suicide is a problem. Locally, we saw an increase in kids coming into emergency departments after 13 Reasons Why began airing, and overall, as a child psychiatrist, I’m seeing more and more teens with suicidal thoughts.

Unfortunately, 13 Reasons Why may influence teens to view suicide as a viable resolution to problems. The series does not show that adults in teens’ lives, and mental health professionals, can be effective in helping teens with their depression and suicidal thoughts.

Teens may feel that there is no way out of their problems, and may feel like their distress will last forever. Some may also mistakenly believe that the world would be better off without them.

So how do we raise the subject?

Credit: Getty Images

13 Reasons Why and the Logan Paul story offer an opportunity to open up communication about an issue that is often kept secret.

They provide a reference point to give our kids permission to discuss a difficult topic and allow them to share feelings of vulnerability. That’s what helps us to connect with our kids.

It’s important to keep an open mind about how your child is feeling and to help them to be open with both their positive feelings and their more vulnerable and overwhelming feelings.

It’s also OK to acknowledge your own discomfort with the topic, which can give your child the chance to express his or her unease.

Watch the show with them, talk through it

Credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix

If your child is determined to watch 13 Reasons Why, it’s a good idea that you, as a parent or caregiver, sit down and watch it with them.

You can explain every opportunity in which the teen who commits suicide could have sought and received help, and rebut messages that adults can neither help nor understand. If your child has already viewed 13 Reasons Why, it is not too late to start this conversation.

What teens need most from us is guidance and acceptance in working through their feelings. Give them permission to have all kinds of emotions — that’s part of life.

For children and teens who are overwhelmed and can’t find solutions to their problems, or who are struggling with depression, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

Signs of depression include:

  • irritability
  • changes in sleep pattern
  • loss of interest in activities
  • struggles with schoolwork
  • frequent physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches.

Stay receptive to cries for help

Credit: Getty Images

A child or teen considering suicide may make negative comments about themselves or make comments about the family being better off without them, and messages they post on social media or through texting may seem hopeless or final.

A recent stressor such as an argument with a family member, or a break-up, may push a teen who is already depressed into considering suicide.

If any of these signs are present, parents need to seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

Use these resources:

Parents and teens who are in crisis or just need to talk, may also call the Crisis Response Network of Southern Arizona 24/7 crisis hotline, 1-800-631-1314. Teen Lifeline is also available at 1-800-248-TEEN (8336). Teens may feel more comfortable through texting than phone calls; CrisisText is available by sending a text to 741741.

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