Suicide is a leading cause of death among teens. The current COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the number of youths who are facing uncertainty, feeling isolated from friends and family members, having a loss of their usual activities, and experiencing stress, depression, and anxiety. Dr Anisha Abraham talks about teen suicide prevention and has helpful resources in Amsterdam to recommend.
Many teens who attempt or commit suicide have trouble coping with failure, rejection, and family turmoil. They might also be unable to see that they can turn their lives around. Studies show that girls are more likely to attempt suicide than boys.
The risk factors for suicide include:
- Having a family history of depression
- Poor coping skills
- Being bullied or cyberbullied
- Experiencing a recent change in friendships or breakup of a romantic relationship
Warning signs may include:
- Changes in behavior, such as suddenly withdrawing from social contact, talking, or writing about suicide
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Mood swings and giving away belongings
- However, sometimes, you just may not know, which is why having regular conversations and check ins with teens is so important!
The following are a few suggestions for preventing teen suicide:
Take concerns seriously. If you are worried, listen to what your child is saying and watch how they are acting. Never shrug off threats of suicide as teen drama.
Pay attention. Pay attention to signs of other issues such as worsening signs of depression or anxiety which could also put teens at risk for suicide.
Don’t be afraid to ask. Parents should know that asking about suicide does not increase the likelihood of their teen self-injuring. In fact, it may be a lifesaving opportunity for a teen to get help early on. Ask direct questions-are you feeling depressed? have you thought about hurting yourself, do you have a plan?
Get help. Do not delay in getting treatment if a teen is actively suicidal or has an underlying issue. It is important to suggest they seek additional help from other people, such as a doctor, counselor, psychologist, or social worker or by calling a hotline. The risk of suicide is greater if a warning sign has suddenly developed or seems related to a stressful event or change.
Look at their environment. Try removing anything they could use to harm themselves, such as alcohol, drugs, medications, weapons, and even access to a car.
If you have a young person who is feeling stressed or anxious, here are some tips for supporting them:
Model positive coping skills The best way to help kids to learn how to handle life’s stressors is to lead by example and show them that you, as an adult, use positive coping strategies when things get tough
Stop Comparing Remind teens that no one is perfect. Everyone is “uneven”, meaning they excel in some areas, but not others, and that is OK.
Time Management Encourage teens to set goals, prioritize tasks, break large assignments into smaller steps, work for designated time periods and take breaks (ie the pomodoro method), and use a reminder system for deadlines.
Unwinding Making sure teens take time to fill their “anti-stress toolbox” with healthy ways to unwind. This could be as simple as talking to trusted friends or watching a funny show. Also, ensure teens are getting adequate sleep, eating well, having non-digital free time and exercising to regulate mood and energy levels.
Resilience Support teens by having them see this time as an opportunity for personal growth. Remind them that the biggest predictor of success in life is getting up on your feet after failure. Help them to build resilience and get “bounce”.
National Suicide and Crisis Lines:
British Armed Forces Link (Netherlands)-24/7 Hotline:0602 222 88
Netherlands Suicide Hotline Ho:09000767
Netherlands Emergency Number: 24/7 Hotline:112
Stichting 113Online: 24/7 Hotline:0900 0113 provides a 24/7 national suicide prevention phone line and webchat. 113Online
Dr Anisha Abraham is a pediatrician and teen health expert on faculty at the University of Amsterdam and Georgetown University Hospital. Anisha works with cross-cultural teens, parents and organizations on modern hot topics including stress, substance use, body image, self-esteem, etc. This piece was adapted with permission from her recently released book Raising Global Teens.
Photo credit: Freepik