A Practical Guide for Pro-Active Detection and Prevention of Adolescent Suicidal BehaviorAdolescent-Suicidal-Behavior

One in five teens in the United States seriously considers suicide annually and suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents, according to the American Psychological Association. While many of the behaviors contained herein are that of any “normal” teenager, this article is written to keep as a precursor to keep us aware and recognize key adolescent suicidal behaviors. It is the hope of The American Academy of Bereavement that parents, family members and key adult figures within the lives of children will use this information to be proactive with what’s going on in the day to day life of a child so you can detect when individual behavior may turn from “normal” to pre-suicidal. With pro-activity, comes prevention. You can not only make a difference, but be the difference that saves a child’s life.

Normal Kid Behavior or Warning Signs of Adolescent Suicidal Behavior?

1. Social Withdrawal from Family and Friends
Adolescence is already a hard time for any tween and teen. Peer groups, pressure to conform and the deep desire to be accepted can cause feelings of insecurity and loneliness. At some level, all kids experience these feelings. Don’t ignore or marginalize these feelings from your children. Take the time to validate these feelings with your child and explore ways for them to feel more in control – whether it’s behavior they need to check at the door (and better they hear this from you than critical peers) or ways they can better to respond to poor behavior or bullying from others. Surround them with adults and friends who will build their confidence while still respecting their privacy as a growing adult. If there is a dramatic change in your child’s social behavior, this may be a sign of adolescent suicidal behavior. Your child may not want to open up to you about the problems they are facing, so provide them with an outlet that they are comfortable with.

2. Unexplained or Dramatic Mood Swings
Rapid developmental changes run rampant during the adolescent years thanks to puberty and hormonal change. Couple that with the outside stress of peers and you could have one moody kid on your hands. It’s important for you to consistently keep your cool during these trying times and remain composed. Try not to respond back with the same moodiness to avoid sending a mixed signal to your child. Instead, take the time to validate your child’s moodiness and talk with them to determine if there is a specific issue or problem triggering their mood swing. Again, validation of their feelings will let them know you are concerned and available for them. Remember that these mood swings do not mean you are seeing signs of adolescent suicidal behavior. Keep a close eye on why your child is acting out and listening for keywords from them such as hopeless, overwhelmed, or feeling alone. If these mood swings feel abnormal to you or put your alert system on “HIGH”, listen to your instincts. Don’t hesitate to consult a professional – therapist, doctor, school counselor, clergy, etc.

3. Erratic Behavior and Impulsiveness
With new experiences coming at them on a daily basis, kids are naturally faced with the daunting task of independent decision making as they travel the path to young adulthood. It’s okay to let them test and explore this independence and new found freedom to make decisions. Recognize some of the decisions adolescents make will be awful and take that opportunity as a way to build values and self-worth. When a good, solid decision is executed by your child, be sure to use that as a teaching moment to reaffirm important values. However, if their behavior and/or decisions cause harm to themselves or others, step in to keep them safe. Be sure to clearly communicate your expectations and values. Discuss the concerning behaviors and the direct consequences of the same.  Impulsiveness is a factor during the adolescent years, so remember your child is probably not thinking all the way through to the end consequence of their behaviors and decisions.

4. Drug and Alcohol Use
The prevalence of drugs and alcohol that are available to our kids in the United States at young ages is alarming. While we all wish we could shelter our kids from alcohol and drug use, the reality is they are surrounded by it on a daily basis, – both at home, in school, on TV and in the media. Substance abuse is often linked to adolescent suicidal behavior and can be the cause or affect.  Drugfree.org  provides the following signs and symptoms of substance abuse to watch for in youth:
• Changes to personal appearance – poor hygiene, messy appearances, red flushed cheeks or face, obvious track marks or burns.
• Personal habits or actions – smells of cigarettes, use of gum or mints, OTC medications for red eyes and nasal irritations, avoidance of eye contact, munchies, sudden appetite, secretive phone calls, phone apps to hide communications.
• School Issues – truancy, loss of interest in school, hobbies or sports; complaints from teachers, change in grades, reports of intoxication.
• Health Issues – nosebleeds, runny nose, spots around mouth, nausea, excessive thirst, weight swings, sweatiness, headaches, depression.
• Home Related – disappearance of prescription drugs, money and/or valuables, smells in the car, hidden stashes of alcohol or drug paraphernalia, mission cigarettes or alcohol from your stock.
If you suspect your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, seek professional help. A professional will be able to help you find assessment services, make a referral to a trusted treatment facility or program and provide guidance to find funding and maneuver your health insurance. Many counties and states provide grants and funding for adolescent chemical dependency treatment.

5. Suicidal Thoughts and Ideation
Suicidal thoughts are also known as suicidal ideation. A significant number of people with suicidal ideation ore often secretive with these thoughts, it is important to take them seriously when these thoughts are verbalized or communicated in writing. Often there is a family history of suicide or suicidal thoughts. Teen depression can be another key factor in the manifestation of these thoughts. To effectively deal with suicidal ideation and teen depression, Helpguide.org provides the following tips:
• Offer Support
• Be gentle but persistent
• Listen without lecturing
• Validate feelings

If there is immediate concern for your child’s safety, seek professional and/or medical attention if your child is actively threatening to endanger his or her life or you believe your child is at risk for committing suicide.

Remember, you are your child’s greatest supporter and advocate and are one of the best people to identify adolescent suicidal behavior in your child. Being mindful of this adolescent suicidal behavior on the front end and practicing proactive measures to help your child successfully work through the difficulties they are faced with on a daily basis can help lower instances of adolescent suicide.

For more information on suicide prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention  or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.