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Parenting a suicidal child

How Parents, Foster Parents and Caregivers Can Help a Child Who Has Tried or Threatened to Commit Suicide

A child committing suicide is a parent’s worst nightmare. The tragedy of suicide can strike anyone, but some populations are at a higher risk of committing suicide than others. Foster youth are more than two times as likely to have seriously contemplated suicide and about four times as likely to have attempted suicide than other youth. Although rare, younger children are increasingly at risk.

Parents may feel helpless if their child has talked about committing suicide or even made an attempt to end their life. The good news is that suicide can be prevented when parents and communities have access to the right tools, resources and mental health professionals. There are early screenings and steps to take so that your child can receive the help they need.

What You Can Do To Prevent Suicide

Mood

If you notice your child’s mood is low or if there is a sudden and sustained dip in their mood, they may have a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety. More than half of teens who take their own lives met criteria for one of these two mental health conditions. Many children may feel embarrassed to admit they are feeling down, and boys in particular may try to hide their emotions, but often their behavior will indicate that something is wrong.

Threats

Many of those who attempt or commit suicide tell others beforehand. If your child says some variation of the following, seek out help immediately:

  • “I want to die”
  • “Nothing matters”
  • “I have no reason to live”

Rather than acting as if your child is just being ridiculous or dramatic, take any and all threats of suicide seriously. Have a talk with your child to really understand why they feel the way they do and listen with empathy. Focus on consoling them and building rapport. If your child won’t speak with you about how they are feeling, suggest connecting them with a mental health professional who is highly trained to ease their pain. If you are concerned about their immediate safety, contact 911. Threats of suicide are almost always a serious cry for help.

Physical and Social Activity

Physical activity improves mood and can help stop mild to moderate depression. This is because exercise releases endorphins, and endorphins are mood-boosters. Team sports and other activities that reduce isolation can promote a sense of belonging and provide a chance for those who are suffering to clear the mind of destructive thoughts. It’s usually better for people who are hurting to be around others than to be alone. Supportive relationships and community connectedness can help protect individuals against suicide.

Environment

Children who experience stressful situations such as sudden loss, life changes, personal humiliation or trouble at home, in school or with the law are at a greater risk for suicide, as these situations can serve as triggers. All parents have the duty to protect their children, but foster children may be especially vulnerable given their life circumstances. If a foster child is in crisis or emotionally distressed, reduce their access to lethal means for suicide including removing firearms from the home or locking them up, keeping medications secure and keeping alcohol locked up and out of reach.

Connect With Trained Professionals Who Can Help

It’s important for those working with youth today to undergo training, regardless of whether or not the child has a history of self-harm or attempts. SAFY works with families to educate them on suicide and the warning signs, as well as on any mental health diagnoses.

Our new Suicide Prevention Protocol utilizes best practice steps and an evidence-based screening tool called the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. Our clinicians provide a clinical assessment during each client visit. Our goal is to identify youth who are struggling with suicidal ideation or self-harm through consistent and early screening. This reduces the probability that a youth in our care will make an attempt or engage in behavior that could lead to self-harm or suicide.

SAFY offers behavioral health services for at-risk children experiencing mental challenges. Our Lima Behavioral Health Center offers open access to mental health counseling services for individuals and families seeking immediate treatment. Additionally, our Youth Drop-In Center offers access to counseling and supportive services for youth ages 12 to 17 who have been victims of crime. Call our referral line at 1-866-270-2201 for more information.

Always remember, you are not alone.

If you suspect your child is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from anywhere in the United States.

Additional Suicide Prevention Resources

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Nationwide Children’s Center for Suicide Prevention and Research

Talking to Children About Suicide

Foster Care Providers: Helping Youth at Risk for Suicide

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: Parent Awareness Series

A Comprehensive Approach to Suicide Prevention

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