Whether you are the parent, loved one, or friend of a teenager, you realize that the teenage years can be very difficult. Teens deal with being caught between childhood and adulthood, learning their own values and beliefs, handling the pressures of school and work, being subjected to bullying and peer pressure, and making choices about their future.
While mood swings and changing attitudes may be the result of hormonal changes in teens, it is important to recognize depression and suicidal thoughts. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. Being aware of the signs that a teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts can be the first step in preventing teen suicide.
- A sudden change in grades – Your teen’s attitude toward school and schoolwork is typically an accurate gauge of his state of mind, and a drop in grades may indicate he is having suicidal thoughts. For instance, a teen who is struggling with suicidal thoughts may suddenly refuse to go to school or may begin skipping school. You may notice a drastic change in the quality of his school work, or teachers may reach out if they are concerned about your teen’s diminished performance in school. Staying in contact with teachers and school officials and checking in with your teen about his performance in school are proactive ways to be aware of his school performance and determine whether there is cause for concern.
- Discussions of death or a preoccupation with death – Sometimes people think that teens are being overly dramatic when they discuss death or seem to be preoccupied with death. In some cases, teens draw pictures depicting death, write songs about death, or write poems or stories about death and dying. You should take those warning signs seriously, as they are common indications that your teen is having suicidal thoughts. It is crucial that you take all threats of suicide seriously and immediately get help or treatment for your teen if he is discussing death or talking about the ways in which he could take his own life.
- Increased alcohol and/or other drug abuse – One of the warning signs a teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts is an increased use of alcohol and/or other drugs. Teens who consider killing themselves often want to end their pain, and they begin using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and then turn to the substance as the method of suicide. Alcohol use especially is a troublesome warning sign that a teen is contemplating suicide because it decreases a person’s inhibitions and increases his impulsivity. If your teen is already exhibiting other signs of being suicidal, you need to seek immediate help or treatment if he begins drinking or drinking more often. Alcohol worsens depression and feelings of loneliness; in fact, suicide is more prevalent among alcoholics than the general population.
- Statements about feeling hopeless or worthless – If your teen is claiming he is hopeless, helpless, or worthless, he may be struggling with suicidal thoughts. Teens on the brink of suicide often feel that their friends and family would be better off without them because they perceive themselves to be a burden on their loved ones. They also do not want to continue living because they feel hopeless. These teens believe they do not have a way out or anything to live for, so they attempt suicide. It is important that you address these claims and seek help for your teen immediately upon learning that he has these sorts of feelings.
- Lack of personal hygiene or neglecting personal appearance – If your teen does not take care of himself, such as wearing the same clothes every day or failing to bathe or shower, he may be having suicidal thoughts. An overall lack of personal hygiene or a sudden disinterest in personal appearance can indicate that your teen feels worthless and is thinking about taking his own life. While you may not want to believe that your teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you cannot ignore the warning signs. If you do suspect he may be coping with depression or having suicidal thoughts, consult his pediatrician or a children’s psychiatrist immediately. Medical professionals and therapists are equipped to evaluate your teen and help him battle his suicidal thoughts in a safe and healthy manner. Most of all, show him that you love him unconditionally and will support him no matter the obstacle. With time and understanding, you can help each other heal and move forward.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.
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