Stress is typically higher during the holiday season. For this reason, mood and the ability to function can be greatly impacted. Children are finishing with their school semester receiving midterm grades. Winter break provides extended time at home where meaningful daily activity and structure is disturbed. The weather is getting colder and darker, meaning less time to be outside to socialize and exercise. The holidays are a joyous, exciting time; however, good stress is still considered stress. Finances might be tight. Extended family members might add a stressful dynamic. No matter how your family is spending the additional time it is an adjustment.
All of these factors can lead to depressive thoughts and feelings, which unfortunately heighten the risk of suicide. According to the American Association of Suicidology (2017), in 2015, Suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death in children ages 10-14 years old as well as youth ages 15-24. Females more frequently attempt suicide; however, males more often complete suicide. It is hard to imagine a child committing suicide; however, knowledge is power. Recognizing the signs, early intervention, and open communication are imperative in reducing your child’s risk.
Active Warning Signs:
- Threatening or looking for ways to hurt oneself – This behavior can look like threatening to cut, seeking knifes or pills, or online research on ways to die.
- Preoccupation with death – Talking or writing about death or suicide. Children will often reach out to friends via text or social media to express depressed feelings.
Passive Warning Signs: These signs are less obvious and are sometimes overlooked or minimized as a mood or “phase.”
- Isolation or withdraw – Teenagers are notorious for wanting their alone time; however, excess withdraw and isolation from friends and family increases negative mood.
- Hopelessness – Comments like “What’s the purpose?” and lack of motivation.
- Lack of interest in their typical activities – Diminished interest in their favorite activities or hobbies might warn of hopelessness, lethargy, and negative mood.
- Change in sleep patterns – oversleeping or not sleeping enough. Sleep hygiene plays an important role in mood. Lack of or oversleeping can lead to a quick downward spiral.
- Anger or rage – Sadness is very frequently the root of anger or rage. Looking for your child’s underlying need behind his or her anger is imperative to find a solution.
With the knowledge of some basic warning signs, the next step will be communication. A common misconception is that if we bring up the word “suicide,” we are implanting the idea in his or her head. This is simply not true, and avoiding the topic can enhance one’s sense of isolation and sadness. Here are some helpful tips in helping a loved one:
- Be direct – Be open and matter-of-fact about the signs you’ve seen. Use the word “suicide.” Children will pick up on an adult’s discomfort and will avoid discussing the topic in the future if they do not trust the adult can handle it.
- Demonstrate non-judgmental, unconditional love – It is not the time to discuss whether or not suicide is a good or bad choice. Individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts are already experiencing extreme self-degradation.
- LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN – Allow them to express and process their feelings. Advice giving is one of the most common mistake we make as adults. A supportive ear will go much further in improvement of mood.
Seeking outside professional help is the next step in supporting your loved one. Your involvement in the process will still be imperative in providing natural support, and adhering to a safety plan for future suicidal ideation. Please call us if you need support at 720-583-9332. In the case of emergencies, call 911 or your local hospital. Other important numbers to keep handy are:
- The 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800- 273-8255
- Colorado Crisis Services – 844-493-8255
- Your mental health provider
Written by Kristin Tribbett, LCSW, BCN