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What To Do When Your Child Talks About Suicide

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

A study connecting military teens and deployment has alarmed military parents. If you’re concerned that your adolescent is depressed or is even thinking about hurting him or herself, there are several resources you can turn to that provide guidance on how to respond and how to seek professional help.

The National Association of School Psychologists offers several handouts that explain both the warning signs of suicide as well as actions that parents or educators can take if they think an adolescent is at risk of attempting suicide.

Steps include:

  • Asking your child directly whether he or she is thinking about suicide
  • Reassuring him or her that there is help and that these feelings won’t last forever
  • Providing constant supervision and not letting the child be alone
  • Removing any means of causing harm, such knives, firearms or medications
  • As soon as possible, contact school or community mental health professionals
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Other links with recommendations regarding depression and suicide prevention include Screening for Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If it’s clear that your child intends to attempt suicide, immediately call 911 or a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).

Dr. Jennifer Lewis, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California who also provides workshops and in-service training to school districts, notes that according to Real Warriors, it’s normal for teens to show signs of depression during deployment. That’s why it’s important to watch for unusual behavior, such as making suicidal threats, talking about dying or disappearing, harming others or experiencing drastic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Parents should also be extra sensitive to these issues during times of transition between schools, before or after a parent’s deployment and especially after the death of a close friend or family member, says Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, a clinical assistant professor with school social work experience. Talk to a school mental health professional during or in advance of these major events, and ask about available resources, such as peer support groups or clubs for military children.

At a minimum, when there is cause for concern, you and your child should always have a point of contact at school, whether it’s a social worker, counselor or nurse. Taking such proactive steps can prevent later problems.

Linda Jacobson is an education reporter and the editor and writer for Building Capacity in Military-Connected Schools at USC. 

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