Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. Four out of five teens show clear warning signs before attempting suicide. One in five children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Children and teens with psychiatric disturbances are more likely to abuse substances. While these statistics illuminate a very serious problem, mental illnesses often go untreated or aren’t treated properly. Those suffering from mental illness face stigmatization that prevents them from seeking help. Many parents desperately want to help their children, but don’t know what warning signs to look for or what steps to take. In a live panel that can be found on their Facebook page, Team Wellness discussed youth mental health, substance abuse, and suicide, and more importantly, what parents can do about it.
Know the Signs
Because many kids won’t come forward about the problems they’re having, it is important for parents to be able to identify the signs of mental illness and substance abuse. Changes in life situations are often a trigger for emotional problems. If a family goes through a move or divorce, parents should observe their child’s behavior for any changes.
The loss of a relationship is another common trigger, whether it be a death or a break-up. It is becoming increasingly common for that loss of a relationship to occur online, with someone the child may have never even met. The child develops an emotional attachment to someone they met on social media and suddenly that person “ghosts out” on them, leaving them with unanswered questions and low self-esteem. Educating children about staying safe online and about healthy friendships and relationships can help to deter these situations.
Other signs to look out for include irritability/anger, isolation, hygiene, and/or changes in eating or sleeping. Parents can also look to social media for clues. What the child posting? Is it focused on death or suicidality? Social media could be the outlet they choose to cry out for help.
What Can Parents Do?
Continuing in the vein of social media, investigating a child’s social media is a precarious endeavor. Don’t use it as an invasion of privacy but to create openness. Be upfront about what you’re doing and educate yourself about social media (i.e. how to use it, what certain things mean, etc.).
The first step, truly, is to open up the conversation with your child. Even if the child isn’t exhibiting any outward signs of depression, it is good to establish that open communication so they feel comfortable coming forward. Educate yourself on mental illness beforehand; new information is coming to light every day and it never hurts to refresh your knowledge or even discover information that could change your own biases and teach you to better understand what the child is going through. Let them know that they have a safe environment in which to discuss their issues and that they have resources available if they need them. Listen and be supportive. Try not to invalidate them. Earn their trust.
Lastly, follow your instincts. You know your child best. If you notice changes or even just have a feeling, be proactive. The idea of your child abusing substances or contemplating suicide is frightening, but addressing the problem early could save their life. Perhaps most importantly, spend time with them. That time is invaluable and will give you insight into their life.
It’s heartbreaking to see persons so young suffering from mental illness, and the rates of suicide only increase with age. Academic stress and social pressure can debilitate even the most ambitious student. Proper proactive treatment is ideal, but at Leading Learners, we are happy to provide resources or meet with you about your child working with an academic coach to alleviate even the smallest part of that stress.