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Talking, Treatment, and Making the Home Safe: Ways to Help Prevent Kids From Committing Suicide

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Talking, Treatment, and Making the Home Safe: Ways to Help Prevent Kids From Committing Suicide

Oct 12, 2015

Suicide is the third most common cause of death from kids aged 10-19. Children and teens suffering from depression, whether it is being treated or not, are much more likely to think about taking their own life. If you worry that your child is having suicidal thoughts, there is help. Dr. Cindy Gellner has advice for parents seeking to have this worrisome conversation with their kids. The National Suicide and Crisis Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 by dialing 988.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: Suicide is not a topic anyone wants to talk about, but the reality is more and more of our children are exposed to suicide. Many think about it and attempt it. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner and today we will discuss suicide prevention for your child.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the Healthy Kids Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: Suicide is very rare in young children, but it is the third most common cause of death in children from ages 10 to 19. Children are the most likely to consider suicide if they suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or alcohol, or substance abuse.

Stressful events can put kids over the edge. They're more likely to kill themselves on impulse than adults are. Many commit suicide within a few weeks of getting into trouble at school, or with the police, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or fighting with friends. Other significant risk factors for suicide include previous suicide attempts, a history of disruptive behavior, and little communication with parents, especially with parents who are divorced, or recently remarried.

Girls attempt suicide more often than boys do. But boys are much more likely to actually succeed in their attempts. Girls are more likely to attempt by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Boys most often attempt by using guns, hanging, or jumping.

Firearms are the most common and fastest growing method of suicide for males and females of all ages in the United States. Having a gun in the house increases the chances that a young person in the home will commit suicide.

An upset child or teen may impulsively use a firearm. Using a gun increases the chances that a suicide attempt will be fatal. Other methods are more likely to allow time for second thoughts and getting medical help. This is why gun safety in the home is of utmost importance. Have the weapons and the ammunitions stored in locked containers separate from each other.

Signs that your child may be considering suicide include an overwhelming sad or empty mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities that they once enjoyed, withdrawing from family and friends, significant change in appetite or weight, significant trouble sleeping or oversleeping, very much irritable or restless, losing energy, feeling completely worthless, or having inappropriate feelings of guilt, letting the quality of his or her school work go down, for example, if they were an A student, they're now making Fs, risky behaviors such as abusing drugs or alcohol, or driving too fast, talking or even just joking about suicide, or writing notes or poems about death, and giving away prized processions, or throwing away important belongings.

If you are concerned about your child's behavior, ask open-ended questions. If your child knows they can talk to you about their point of view, they'll be more likely to talk to you about important things. Get your child treatment if he or she has signs of depression, or problems with drug or alcohol use. If your child is especially grouchy, worried, withdrawn, or upset more than you would expect based on their age or social situation, get an evaluation as soon as possible by a health care provider and a mental health provider.

Ask your child if he or she is thinking about suicide. You will not cause your child to think about suicide by talking about it. What you are doing is showing that you care when you ask. If he or she talks about death or mentions about suicide, do not get mad or pass judgment, just get professional help. Reassure your child that you love him or her. And remind your child that no matter how awful their problem seem, they can be worked out and you are there and willing to help them.

Again, removed or lock up any lethal weapons such as guns in your home. Be sure to also keep locked up narcotics and other pills and poisons. Both medications and therapy are useful to treat depression in children and adolescents. The only drug approved for use in children with major depressive disorder is Prozac. And many parents are concerned about giving their child antidepressants. Talk with your pediatrician or mental health professional about this. Untreated depression can be fatal.

If your child is depressed, starting on a new antidepressant, or taking a different dose, be aware of any changes in behavior. Never take your child off an antidepressant medication suddenly without talking to your child's pediatrician. With some medications, you must taper off slowly to avoid significant side effects.

A type of therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy is wonderful to help children learn about depression, teach them specific skills for managing their physical symptoms, negative thoughts, and problem behaviors. If you think your child is suicidal, get help immediately. Talk with your child's pediatrician or mental health specialist. And in an emergency, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE.

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