May is Mental Health Awareness Month which focuses on raising awareness and decrease the stigma of mental illness. To raise awareness, this blog will focus on a topic that is personal and important: Suicide.
A year ago this month, my teen daughter attempted suicide while she was experiencing severe depression and anxiety. This is a parent’s worst nightmare; knowing that their child is suffering to the point of wanting to end their life. Thankfully, I was able to intervene and got my daughter much needed help. This situation opened my eyes about the serious effects of the pandemic and how to be more supportive and empathetic towards her.
Teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 15-24. For African Americans, the number of suicides is rising.
Why are teen suicide rates increasing? There are a variety of reasons including the effects of the pandemic and isolation from peers and family. Many teens viewed school as a safe haven where they could connect with teachers and friends who were part of their support system. The shutdown from the pandemic left many teens feeling alone and isolated. This resulted in increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and no one to talk to. Due to stigma, depression and anxiety aren’t openly discussed in the Black community. Teens feel they cant get help from their parents. Often, they are told, “why are you sad/depressed? You’re just a kid.” Also, they experience negative experiences such as shame and teasing from family members.
Black teens are at an increased risk of depression, anxiety, stress related to violence against Black people. Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity among access to treatment. This means that Black youth are not receiving adequate treatment for their mental health symptoms. Or they are being misdiagnosed which causes more harm.
All of these factors are contributing to increased symptoms of depression. When people are experiencing depression, they can feel hopeless and helpless. These feelings can trigger thoughts of suicide. What can you do to help your child or a loved one who is experiencing suicidal thoughts?
1. Ask about their thoughts and feel. Asking about suicidal thoughts won't cause them to feel suicidal. Some ways to talk to your child include: “have you had thoughts of not wanting to wake up?” “Have you ever thought about what it would be like be if you weren’t around?”
2. Be aware of warning signs that might suggest something is wrong. It is important to note that often there aren’t signs of suicidal behaviors or intentions. Some signs include isolation/withdrawal, mood swings, doing risky or self-destructive things, talking or writing about suicide, giving away belongings, feeling hopeless or helpless
3. Pay attention and ask questions. This creates a safe and nurturing space. It shows your teen that you are a supportive person during distressing times.
4. Seek professional help. This means contacting 911 or a ER visit for immediate assistance. Also, finding a psychiatrist or therapist for additional support would be beneficial. Seeing someone weekly can help your child share their thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental space. Your teen will learn effective coping skills for their feelings and thoughts. Often teens don't want to die. They want to feel better. Therapy will allow them to explore other ways to improve their mood vs suicide.
5. Monitor social media use. Social media can expose teens to bullying, peer pressure and unhealthy lifestyles. It is important to be aware of what your teen has access to and how they are being affected.
6. Safely store alcohol, medications, and guns. Having access to these items can play a role when your teen is suicidal.
There is help available for you and your teen. You are your child’s best advocate for them to receive the help they need. If you know someone who is suicidal, please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Crisis Textline HOME to 741741.