Growing up is tough, especially for the current generation that has had to push through a global pandemic, climate anxiety, political unrest, and general uncertainty in almost all aspects of life. The building pressure and the looming unknowns can bring anyone down, especially young people who are not equipped biologically or otherwise to face crises in the healthiest of ways.
Self-harm, suicidal behavior, or suicide attempts can affect anyone, no matter their age, race, gender, income, or family background, but certain young people can be more vulnerable. While this thought can be scary, there is good news. Anyone, not just mental health professionals, can learn how to offer emotional and practical support to a young person experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The warning signs for each individual will vary, however, there are some possible warning signs that are linked to suicidal behaviors or thoughts:
- talking or writing about death or about feeling trapped with no way out
- feeling hopeless and withdrawing from family, friends, and the community
- increasing drug and alcohol use
- giving away personal possessions
- doing dangerous, life-threatening things
- having delusions or hallucinations
- regularly self-harming
- significant mood changes.
Triggers of youth suicide
Stress can come from many avenues in life. Young people are going through many drastic changes in their environments and even in their bodies, all of which can lead to stress that builds up over time or stress that is immediate. Some of the stressful experiences that might trigger suicidal thoughts are:
- loss of an important person through death or divorce
- incest or child abuse
- bullying at school or in the workplace
- a sense of failure at school
- a sense of failure in relationships
- a relationship break-up
- the experience of discrimination, isolation, and relationship conflicts with family, friends, and others because the young person is gay or lesbian
- the recent suicide of a friend or relative, an anniversary of a suicide, or the death of someone close to them.
It’s also important to note that individuals who have attempted suicide once or have a history of self-harm are at a higher risk of trying again.
Supporting a young person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts
- Listen and encourage them to talk and show that you are taking their concerns seriously.
- Tell or show the person that you care.
- Acknowledge their fears, despair, or sadness.
- Provide reassurance, but do not dismiss the problem.
- Ask if they are thinking of hurting themselves or taking their own life and if they have a plan.
- Ensure they do not have access to lethal weapons or medications.
- Stay with the person if they are at high risk of suicide.
- Immediately tell someone else, preferably an adult.
- Seek help from professionals and offer to provide support.
- Let them know where they can get support.
- Provide contact numbers and assist them to call if necessary.
Things to avoid when supporting a young person experiencing suicidal thoughts
When trying to offer emotional support to a young person (or anyone of any age), it’s common to unintentionally put them off by doing one of the following things:
- interrupting with stories of your own
- panicking or becoming angry
- being judgmental
- telling them all the things they have to live for
- offering too much advice.
It’s never easy to see a loved one struggle, especially a child or a teen, but remember that showing you care, being there, and making them feel supported can make a huge difference and potentially save a life.