Suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers, and in 2019, youth suicide rates hit a 20-year-high. But as parents, it can be hard to know how to navigate conversations around the topic of suicide.
Jennifer Hartstein, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with suicidal adolescents, sat down with Today Show hosts, Jenna Bush Hager and Maria Shriver to talk about the warning signs of suicide in teens, and how to help.
Warning Signs of Suicide:
- Any significant changes in behavior.
- Any sort of talk about suicide—whether it be jokingly or seriously.
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed.
- Goodbye behaviors—withdrawing from friends and family.
Jennifer says one of the greatest ways to start the conversation about suicide and mental health with your kids is to simply be present.
“Let them know you’re there, don’t be afraid to say, ‘hey, you seem a little bit down today, what’s going on?’” Jennifer says. “The more present you are, the more open they are to come talk to you.”
She also recommends not having these conversations face-to-face, but by walking, or doing something. Kids are more comfortable to open up when it doesn’t feel like such a formal ordeal.
Take a walk, sit on the couch together, do something with them while having the conversation, and again, simply be present.
2019 saw a 10% increase in teen suicide ages 14-17 over the previous three years. As far as the reason for the spike, Jennifer says it’s hard to know because there are so many factors involved. But in her expert opinion, it all comes down to pressure.
Teens are feeling more pressure than ever before to succeed academically, athletically, financially, relationally, etc.
All of that pressure bundled up with no outlet leads to isolation and a constant feeling of failure.
“Why is this so important? Why is this something that matters to them?” Jennifer says of questions you can ask your kids. “Just be open, and share…model for them how to talk about emotions.”
As far as “contagion” among suicide rates goes, Jennifer says the most important thing you can do as a parent is not be afraid to ask your child if they’re feeling suicidal.
“I think that there’s this belief, that we shouldn’t talk about it because I’m giving you the idea,” Jennifer says. “If someone is feeling suicidal, you’re not giving them the idea. Contagion happens because now, there’s a more specific idea of what the mean is,” she continues.
A big part of the solution, Jennifer says, is teaching kids—and particularly young boys—how to show emotion.
If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.