Warning signs of Teen Suicide

by Dr Peggy on September 17, 2012

So I was planning to start with a list of warning signs so we could talk about the things to watch for in order to prevent teen suicide. The thinking was that giving us concrete things would help us pay better attention and give us access to the “true names” that we talked about in last week’s post. So, here is a list compiled from a couple of websites of warning signs.

Disinterest in favorite extracurricular activities
Problems at work and losing interest in a job
Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug (illegal and legal drugs) use
Behavioral problems
Withdrawing from family and friends
Sleep changes
Changes in eating habits
Begins to neglect hygiene and other matters of personal appearance
Emotional distress brings on physical complaints (aches, fatigues, migraines)
Hard time concentrating and paying attention
Declining grades in school
Loss of interest in schoolwork
Risk taking behaviors
Complains more frequently of boredom
Does not respond as before to praise

Well, wasn’t that helpful? Perhaps not so much.

Any teen parent that has never seen their teen neglect hygiene or “other matters of personal appearance” stand up NOW!

A hard time concentrating? A teenager? No, really?

How about those of you whose teen has never said the words “I’m BORED?”

Now that the two parents standing have been identified, where does that leave the rest of teen parents?

If all teens engage in these behaviors, how in the world are we supposed to know when the problem is one that could lead to our teen taking their life?

Just because a teen says their bored, doesn’t mean we should assume they are a suicide risk. And a teen who doesn’t pay attention isn’t ready to take their life. So, what are we looking for? Let’s add the words “change” and “increased” and see what we think about these warning signs. Let’s talk about how many of them we see in our teen. I suspect we really do know if we are looking at a change in one of these behaviors – an increase that seems out of proportion to the situation. Then the true name of boredom becomes depression and that lack of attention becomes isolation and withdrawal.

Yeah, I know, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. No one is saying that your teen is going to stand up with a sign saying “I’m thinking about suicide.” You have to be vigilant and looking for those “true names.” Don’t just accept your teen’s behavior changes when there is that niggling little doubt in the back of your mind. Pay attention to those behavioral changes – things that seem things that seem more out of proportion that usual. I know, I know, how can anything seem out of proportion when you are talking about a teen’s behavior. Out of proportion is their normal. Maybe different is a better description. Keep your radar tuned and pay attention when these particular behaviors in the list may last longer than it used to, seem stronger than before or just doesn’t seem like their regular response to something. Check it out. Have those difficult conversations at the kitchen table. You may be very grateful that you did.

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