Teen Suicide

How to help your daughter before it’s too late.

It will never happen to my daughter. These crucial words are one of the most powerful ways parents have of consciously trying to forget that horrible things can happen to their daughter. It’s our way of defending against the indefendable. If we can just convince ourselves that our teenage daughters will sail through the challenging and difficult adolescent years, then all will be well. Unfortunately, life does not always go how we planned it.

According to the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), girls attempt suicide at a rate double that of boys. And more teens between the ages of 15-24 die by means of committing suicide than cancer, AIDS, and heart disease combined. Yet despite this daunting research, there are things you can do to help reduce the risk that your daughter will become another statistic. If you know what to look for and when to look for it, chances are that you can intervene at a critical time in your daughter’s life and make a difference doing so.

At Risk Behavior:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), has found that the majority of teens who commit suicide, had a preexisting psychological or substance-related disorder at the time of their death. For many teens, any of these disorders can exacerbate circumstances surrounding difficult situations like the break up of a boyfriend, bullying, or falling behind in school. Mental illnesses such as depression and substance abuse can cause your daughter to act irrationally by lashing out in anger, crying spells, and even violence. Often, these symptoms go undiagnosed because they appear to be “teen related” characteristics (such as crankiness, agitation, and withdraw from family) instead of mental illness. Since teens with at-risk behaviors are more likely to kill themselves, it’s important for parents to identify the triggers early on.

  • Psychological disorder. Mental health diagnosis, specifically depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse (95% of teens who commit suicide had a mental health disorder at the time of their death).
  • Poor school performance. Watch for a subtle or dramatic drop in grades.
  • Access to guns. If possible, do not have guns in your house or keep a “gun lock” on them at all times.
  • Sexual assault or violence. If your daughter is a victim of sexual abuse or violence,then she’s at higher risk.
  • Family history. Note any family history in depression or suicide. Depression has a genetic link that can cause your daughter to develop depressive symptoms or illness.
  • Sexual orientation. If your daughter is struggling with sexual orientation, then she is more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Lack of social network. Your daughter develops poor relationships with parents and friends, and feelings of social isolation.
  • Previous suicide attempt. If your teen has already attempted suicide once, then she is more likely to try it again.

Watch for Warning Signs:

  • She talks about suicide or death. This can be talking specifically about killing herself or talking about “death” in general (i.e. “I wonder what it would be like if I wasn’t here).
  • Gives away valuables. Your daughter begins to give away items. These items may have special meaning to her (like a diary) or can be “everyday” items.
  • Isolation. You notice your daughter distancing herself from family and friends.
  • Dramatic change in personal hygiene. Watch for signs that your daughter isn’t showering or she suddenly begins to dress provocatively.
  • Marked changes in sleep and/or eating habits. She may increase or decrease the amount of time she sleeps or eats.
  • Loses interest in things she used to love. Suddenly you may find your daughter has lost interest in favorite activities such as playing a sport, hanging out with friends, or participating in extracurricular activities.
  • Participates in self- destructive behavior (ex. sexual promiscuity; drinking alcohol, driving too fast).

How to Help:

  • Keep communicating. Make sure you talk with your daughter often about what’s going on in her life and how she feels about it. Always express your concern, support and love. Often, parents of teens are reluctant to talk with their daughters about suicide or other potentially heated teen issues. However, ignoring these issues often makes the situation worse. So ask the “tough” questions. If your daughter doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you about things, suggest another trusted adult like a clergy member, school counselor, or coach.
  • Listen to her. Always listen to what your daughter has to say. A fight with one of her girlfriends may not seem like a big deal to you, but it may mean everything to her. Dismissing or belittling her will only put distance between you and your daughter and she will be less likely to come to you for help or advise in the future.
  • Be an “observer.” Teens won’t always tell you what they are thinking, but you can usually pick up on their “unspoken” body language if you look close enough. For example, look for signs her grades are falling or that she is hanging out with a new crowd of friends.
  • Take her seriously. Any acknowledged threat by your daughter to take her own life – whether spoken or unspoken- must be taken seriously. Don’t let her “excuse” her comments by saying it was just a joke.
  • Get help. If you suspect your daughter is suicidal, get help immediately. Your family doctor can refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist in your area or a mental heath center. If it’s an emergency, use the 800 numbers in the sidebar for free, immediate crisis intervention. Your local emergency room can also assist in a crisis situation, so dial 911 if you need extra help.
  • You can make a difference. Remember that early intervention is the key to helping your daughter through many difficult phases of her life. Don’t lose hope and believe that change is possible. If your daughter is contemplating suicide, she most likely feels alone, scared, and isolated. Regardless of her behavior, remind her that you will always love and support her every step of the way.