How to better understand teenage suicide?


How to better understand teenage suicide?

An interview with Nathalie Parent, psychologist

Did you know that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the world among teenagers, according to the WHO? However, behind this statistic lie very different realities depending on geographic location.

In Quebec, the rate of teen suicide has dropped steadily and there has been an increase in the number of young people being treated for mental health disorders.

This article will provide information and advice to help you better understand suicide among young people.

What is suicide?

Contrary to what you might believe, a person who tries to commit suicide does not want to end their life: instead, they are attempting to end their unbearable suffering. The good news is that there are many ways to relieve a teen’s misery, such as psychotherapy and medication.

Treatments for depression
What makes a teen more likely to attempt suicide?

What makes a teen more likely to attempt suicide?

Personality traits

A young person who tends to be anxious, have low self-esteem or be impulsive would be more likely to attempt suicide. If they have trouble expressing themselves or talking about their emotions, the likelihood could be even greater.

Personal situations a young person may experience

Isolation, social relationships that break down, grieving someone’s death, a lack of support, drug, alcohol or gaming abuse problems and a chronic physical disease are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a suicide attempt.

A complex past

Likewise, past events can impact a young person’s behaviour:

  • If they were mistreated as a child;
  • If they have attempted suicide in the past;
  • If someone in their circle tried to end their life and the event remained a taboo subject.

Why are teens among the age groups most affected by suicide?

Imagine we all have a container inside us that contains our stress and emotions. When you’re a child, the container is small, but it grows along with you.  

In their teen years, your child has to deal with all kinds of new challenges, such as the development of their identity and social relationships. Their container is already quite full and can sometimes have trouble accommodating new emotions.

Events such as a relationship break-up, moving to a new location, the separation of their parents, a conflict with friends or family, bullying, a person close to them getting sick, an academic failure, or repeated failures in their life can cause their container to overflow.

They are no longer able to manage their stress and emotions, which can lead to a crisis.

How to know if your child is predisposed to suicide?

How to know if your child is predisposed to suicide?

All the factors mentioned above can occur and cause your teen to go through a very rough patch in their life, and that’s normal! However, when your child’s behaviour changes suddenly and radically, you should take an interest in what’s going on.

  • Negative change in behaviour: your child, who was usually happy, starts to withdraw, be depressed, aggressive and/or angry, have their back up, etc.
  • The falsely positive change in behaviour: your child, who had been sad for a while, for no rational reason starts to be cheerful, to make plans with friends, and to resume what appears to be a normal life. In reality, they may have found some kind of peace by developing a plan to end their suffering. Stay vigilant!

Conversely, even when the parent-teen relationship is strong, you may sometimes be the last to know what’s really happening in your child’s life and fail to see changes in their behaviour. The important thing is to listen to your parental intuition and not hesitate to ask for help, even if your child seems to be communicating openly with you. If they tell you that things are fine but your instinct tells you the opposite, you need to take action!

How to talk about your concerns with your child?

If you’re concerned about your teen, be attentive to what they have to say and always keep the lines of communication open with them.

  • Mention your concerns: you can tell them factually what makes you believe that things are not right for them, such as “you’re always closed up in your room,” “the activities that you used to love don’t seem to interest you anymore”, etc. You can also ask them questions about how they feel, such as “why do you think that way?”, “do you think about dying sometimes?”, etc. Don’t forget to mention that you’re available for them: they need to know that they matter to you.
  • Bring them to see a psychologist: sometimes, young people have preconceived notions about psychologists. If they resist, don’t hesitate to explain that the symptoms of depression may sometimes be due to physical disorders and that it is important to perform a full assessment to be sure. This will help convince them to be receptive to psychotherapy.
Find other tips for discussing psychotherapy with your teen

When should you be alarmed?

If, during your conversations, your teen mentions that they have thought up a specific plan to commit suicide, the situation is urgent. Don’t wait and:

  • Call 911;
  • Go straight to the closest emergency department;
  • If your teen’s suicidal thoughts seem less concrete, call Suicide Action at 1 866 APPELLE (277-3553) and your call will be automatically forwarded to the resource in your region (free, confidential, 24/7 service).

Don’t be worried about the professional secrecy that protects young people over the age of 14: the risk of suicide is a situation in which health professionals’ duty of confidentiality does not apply. Therefore, you will be informed if your child has been seen by a member of the medical staff.

Taking care of your own mental health

If your child is in distress, it’s normal for their condition to monopolize all your thoughts and energy. But don’t forget that, by taking care of yourself, you’ll be better able to help your teen.

Try to have a network of trusted individuals that you can rely on. Several resources are also available to support you during this ordeal.

Finally, if you feel the need to speak to someone outside the situation, psychotherapy may be a good option.

Resources to help you