How to talk about suicide? First, talk about it

suicide prevention“How did I not see the signs?” “What could I have done?” These are questions no parent wants to ask. While suicide can be a dark and difficult subject to talk about, shining a light on it can help save a life.

Suicide by the numbers

More than 44,000 Americans die by suicide each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24. Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey data shows 9.4 percent of Kentucky youth have attempted suicide and 15.7 percent have seriously considered it.

Julie Cerel, president of the American Association of Suicidology and professor at the University of Kentucky, points out that suicide attempts among youth is increasing, but it is not clear whether teens are more willing to disclose attempts than before. Suicides in Kentucky may be linked to the opioid epidemic, poverty, lack of good mental health care or easy access to firearms and other lethal weapons.

Furthermore, experts agree that depression and other mental illness play an overwhelming role in most suicides. However, far too often, individuals with mental illness have not sought or received treatment. In fact, untreated depression is a primary contributor to suicide.

What parents can do: Know the warning signs

Knowing the signs of depression is the first step in getting help:

  • Decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping, including sleeping too much or insomnia
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, frustration
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Overeating or loss of appetite

“Not all people who are depressed will attempt or die by suicide. But, many people affected with depression do not seek or receive treatment for their mental illness, which can escalate to thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts,” said Bradley E. Kocian, M.D., family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates.

Warning signs for suicide include those of depression but also can include these symptoms:

  • Threats or comments about killing themself, especially if they verbalize a plan or have a way to end their life
  • Increased substance use
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, society
  • Uncontrolled anger, rage
  • Reckless behaviors or engaging in risky activities
  • Dramatic mood swings
Talk to your teen

If you suspect that your teen may be at risk for suicide, asking direct questions can help save their life. Questions like, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” are critical in getting your child the help they need. While many parents may feel that asking these questions may put the thought of suicide into their child’s mind, experts like Cerel say that this is not the case. In fact, teens often feel relieved when someone asks them directly about suicidal thoughts or activity.

Talk with your doctor

Primary care providers will screen for depression and other mental illnesses should your teen have any of the listed symptoms. A PCP can then refer you to a provider who specializes in mental illnesses.

Learn more about mental illness and suicide

Eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide through education and awareness. The American Association of SuicidologyNational Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are great resources to educate yourself and your loved ones on mental illness and suicide.

Dark days can be illuminated by the light of hope. Give yourself or a loved one hope by sharing the message of how to prevent suicide.

If you suspect a teen might need help dealing with stress, depression or other mental health issues, contact your child’s physician. If you need a physician, call (502) 629-KIDS or find one today.


Additional resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK/8255can offer support for parents and children.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a list of mental health professionals and resources for teens and families.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry includes a child and adolescent psychiatrist finder, where you can search for a provider near you.

Health insurance provider

If you have health insurance coverage, contact your insurance company for a list of mental health care providers included in your insurance plan.

High school counselors

Your child’s high school counselor may be able to refer you to a mental health professional in your community.