How to Help a Suicidal Teen

How to Help a Suicidal Teen

The teenage years have always been trying. Adolescence has perennially been an emotionally challenging developmental stage, due to hormone fluctuations, social struggles, increasing academic pressure, and shaky self-esteem. Teen brains are still under construction, so the executive functions, such as impulse control, self-monitoring, reasoning, and regulating emotions are not fully developed.

Today’s teens experience a much more difficult array of stressors than any other time in modern history. With the introduction of social medial stoking bullying, social shaming, and torpedoing self-confidence, today’s teenagers are much more vulnerable to developing mental health disorders. Add to that high divorce rates, increased substance abuse, and trends such as self-harm, is it any wonder that suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control?

With all this in mind, understanding how to help a suicidal teen is imperative in today’s culture. Through knowledge of the signs of trouble, suicidal warning signs, and intervention options, parents and teachers can be a significant resource for getting teens the help they need in a timely manner.

Teens at Risk

While there is no reliable way to predict which teens may struggle with depression or anxiety to a point that they might consider suicide, there are some factors that can increase the likelihood that it could happen.  Here are some of the factors that might increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts:

  • A family history of mental health disorders, including suicides
  • The presence of a mood disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder
  • Substance abuse co-occurring with the mood disorder
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Gender identity issues
  • Access to a weapon in the house
  • A dysfunctional home environment, violence or abuse in the home
  • Legal problems, time spent in juvenile hall or detention facility
  • Feelings of isolation, detachment from peers and/or family members

Signs of Depression in Teens

Depression is diagnosed when a teen has been plagued with a cluster of symptoms, as outlined in the DSM-5 for major depressive disorder, for most of the time over two weeks duration. Depression is a serious mental health disorder and should always be taken seriously. If the teen exhibits several of these symptoms, he or she should be evaluated by a medical doctor, and either a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Symptoms of teen depression:

  • Excessive sleep
  • Exhibits sadness, hopelessness, despair
  • Drop in academic performance
  • Avoiding activities they once enjoyed, such as groups and clubs or athletics
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory issues
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Isolating behaviors, withdrawing from friends
  • Substance abuse
  • Irresponsible behaviors
  • Change in eating habits, sudden weight gain or loss
  • Inappropriate guilt
  • Obsessing about death
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors

Suicidal Warning Signs in Teens

When a teen is already grappling with mental health issues, such as depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder it may not take much to prompt a suicide attempt. Teens by nature are rather impulsive, so without giving the act or aftermath much thought, a teen may overreact to a stressor or traumatic event by attempting suicide. Being aware of the warning signs for suicide is critical if your teen is struggling with depression or mental illness of any kind.

  • They may exhibit rash or impulsive behaviors
  • Increasingly withdrawn from friends and family members
  • Gives away their prized possessions
  • Exhibits angry outbursts, rage, or violent behaviors
  • Feel they have no purpose in life
  • Obsessed with death and suicide, talks about it, draws pictures, writes about it
  • Chronic insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Displays feelings of shame, guilt, excessive worry, or grief
  • Stops participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Obtaining weapon or pills

How to Help a Suicidal Teen

A teen at risk for suicide should be under the care of a psychiatrist. In many cases, it is the teen’s close friends or teacher who first alert the parents to disturbing signs and symptoms the teen is exhibiting. The parents should listen to these concerned individuals and avoid feelings of denial, which could postpone treatment and heighten the risk for suicide.

If the teen does come directly to the parents for help, listen to them with an open mind and hear them out. This may be their call for help. Do not attempt to minimize their suffering, but assure them that life is worth living and that you will get them help. While in the process of scheduling professional help for the teen, parents should get any weapons locked up or out of the house, including prescription drugs, and alcohol.

Outpatient vs. Residential Treatment for Teens

If a teen is exhibiting suicidal behaviors or has made attempts to take his or her life, inpatient treatment is the best option for the adolescent. Often a teen will be under the care of qualified outpatient mental health practitioners for depression or some other mood disorder, but even so the teen seems to be declining into a deeper state of depression.

A residential teen mental health program offers a higher level of care and can also provide acute stabilization in the event of a crisis situation. Most residential programs for teens are specifically trained on how to help a suicidal teen through the crisis, and then provide a multi-disciplinary treatment plan over the course of weeks or months. This targeted, intensive treatment is sometimes the best approach for teens that are in crisis.

BNI Treatment Centers Offers Help for Suicidal Teens in a Residential Setting

BNI Treatment Centers is a residential teen mental health treatment center in Los Angeles, California. At BNI Treatment every teen patient is treated as an individual who deserves to be treated respectfully and with dignity. A teen who has been exhibiting signs of depression, self-harm, or suicidal ideation should have their concerns taken seriously, and receive the highest standard of care. Residential treatment provides a supportive and intimate community where the teen will feel valued as they work through their psychological issues.

BNI Treatment has tailored its program to be teen-centric, one that a teen will be responsive to. Within the menu of therapeutic activities are not only traditional psychotherapy sessions, but also activities that feel relevant to the teen. These experiential therapies include surf therapy, equine therapy, art, dance, music, and drama therapies, yoga, and meditation. For more information about how to help a suicidal teen, please contact BNI Treatment Centers today at (888) 522-1504.

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