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Teen Suicide Prevention: Monitoring Our Teens

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Parent Prevention Plan
Girl suicide

Don't dismiss depression as a phase. About 11% of adolescents suffer from the disorder by age 18, which can sometimes lead to suicide. Watch out for these symptoms: (1) acting more irritable or angry than usual, (2) dramatic change in appetite or weight, (3) trouble sleeping or oversleeping, (4) restlessness, (5) feeling worthless, (6) inability to concentrate, (7) alcohol or substance abuse, (8) aggressive behavior and (9) talking about wanting to end it all. If your teen experiences at least five for at least two weeks, get help immediately.

Watch out for bullying. Whether it's at school or online, verbal or physical, bullying takes a great toll on victims, who are two to nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, according to a review by Yale University.

Get your teen to talk. If a suicide occurs in your community, don't allow your child to brood alone in her room. "When crisis strikes, teens need the empathetic ear of an adult," says Haas. So keep the door open and tell her you've noticed she's not herself and want to help. Don't be insulted if your child won't open up. "Kids often don't want to have to deal with their parents' distress in addition to their own," says Haas. They might also resist talking to a counselor at school, where other kids might find out. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a private therapist.

Say "I love you." They may push you away, but teens still need to know they can count on you. That's what saved Luke. "Don't assume your kids are aware that you love them unconditionally," says Kelly. "Show it. They may be porcupines, but hug them anyway."

Where to Turn

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential counseling and support 24/7, as well as referrals to mental health services, at 800-273-TALK and suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has information on risk factors and warning signs, plus links to other resources, at afsp.org. A related website, MoreThanSad.org, features a video that teaches teens to recognize the signs of depression.

Healthy Minds is a public TV series that includes a two-part episode on depression and suicide, "Teens: Typical or Troubled?" View it at wliw.org/healthyminds.