7 Common Myths About Teen Suicide

What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

Depression is common among teens and can be a major risk factor in suicide.
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Although many parents talk to their kids about dangers of not washing their hands or the risks of meeting strangers online, few parents ever talk to their teens about suicide.

That's unfortunate because more teens die from suicide than cancer, pneumonia, influenza, chronic lung disease, heart disease, AIDS, and birth defects combined. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.

Mental health problems and suicide can be an uncomfortable subject to broach—especially when you aren't sure what to say.

But talking about it could save your teen's life. 

Educate yourself about suicide. Not only will that enable you to be on the lookout for possible signs your teen may be at risk, but understanding suicide will also help you hold meaningful conversations with your teen on the subject.

There are many common misconceptions about suicide that prevent parents from talking to teens. Other myths about suicide prevent parents from recognizing just how serious of a problem suicide can be. 

Here are the seven most common myths about teen suicide:

1. Teens who threaten to commit suicide are just looking for attention.

Teens usually excel at hiding problems, especially from adults. A teen who is talking about suicide needs to be listened to carefully and taken seriously. If your teen mentions suicide, take it very seriously and seek professional help immediately. 

2. Asking teens if they have had thoughts about suicide increases their risk.

Sometimes parents fear that bringing up the subject of suicide will somehow plant the seed.

But asking direct questions about suicide won't compel your teen to kill himself. But if he is having any suicidal thoughts, he will feel relieved by your questions. 

3. Teens who aren't successful in completing suicide weren't serious.

A teen that attempts suicide is trying to stop the pain and suffering.

Teens who make an attempt are at much higher risk of trying again. Their second attempts are much more likely to be lethal. 

4. Teens who commit suicide always act sad beforehand. 

Depression in teenagers looks different from depression in adults. Teens with depression frequently don’t appear sad. They may be irritable or withdrawn and might even seem happy at times. Suicide may be a rather sudden response to a major stressful event.

5. Teens who commit suicide spend a lot of time planning it. 

The decision to commit suicide may be planned—but it could also be somewhat of an impulsive one. Suicide may feel like the best way to escape pain. A teen who has been humiliated, rejected, or subjected to bullying, for example, may think suicide is the only way out.

6. Suicide among teens is rare. 

Most people aren't aware that it such a common problem. Suicides don't usually make the news and many families keep a teen's suicide as private as possible. Teens who struggle with mental illness, like depression, and those who abuse substances are at the highest risk of taking their own life. 

7. A suicide plan doesn't mean a teen is actually at risk of following through. 

A teen with a specific plan for how and when to commit suicide is a teen in serious trouble.

When a mental health professional assesses a teen for suicide risk, meeting this criteria means the teen is potentially in immediate danger and steps need to be taken to ensure safety. 

Start a Conversation Today

Strike up a conversation with your teen about mental health issues, stress, and suicide. You might start by mentioning a story you read about the news or a TV show that you watched on the topic.

You might also ask questions like, "Does anyone at your school ever talk about suicide?" or "Does your school teach you about mental health issues?" 

If you have concerns that your teen may be contemplating suicide, or your teen is struggling with mental health issues or a recent stressful event, talk to your child's doctor.

A pediatrician may refer your teen to a mental health professional. 

Sources: 

The Jason Foundation: Youth Suicide Statistics.

American Psychological Association: Teen Suicide is Preventable.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Teen Suicide.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Mortality Among Teenagers Aged 12-19 Years: United States, 1999-2006

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