A Parent’s Guide to Youth Suicide Prevention

Children and adolescents living with mental illness face great adversity. Approximately one out of every five children in the United States has a diagnosable mental health disorder. If left untreated, these disorders could potentially lead to suicide, substance use, the inability to live independently, involvement with the justice system, dropping out of school, economic hardship, and physical health problems.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and KentuckyOne Health and Our Lady of Peace are committed to helping parents and caregivers recognize the signs of mental illness in our youth and empower them to seek help.

While depression and suicide often coincide, not everyone who is depressed attempts suicide, and not everyone who attempts suicide is depressed. It’s important for parents, teachers, or anyone who spends time with children to be aware of the effects mental illness can have on children and young adults, including the factors that can elevate their level of suicide risk.

The facts are clear. As the second leading cause of death, suicide is a serious health issue among school-age youth. But it is preventable! By following the list below and making suicide prevention a priority, we can help children before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences.

  1. Pay attention: Recognize the difference between bouts of irritable behavior, and deep unhappiness over time, with a significant lack of interest in things.  
  2. Don’t ignore worrying symptoms, hoping they’ll go away: Talk to your child about the signs of depression that you’ve noticed and voice your concerns in a caring and non-judgmental way.
  3. Trust your gut feeling, you know when something’s just not right: FACT: Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
  4. Listen, even when they aren’t talking: Not all, but most kids who are thinking about suicide (this is called suicidal ideation) tip off their uneasy state of mind through troubled behaviors and actions.
  5. Seek professional help: If they won’t talk to you, nothing is helping, and the symptoms are worsening, don’t wait to contact your pediatrician. Call Our Lady of Peace’s Assessment and Referral Center at (502) 451-3333 for 24/7 No Charge Assessments.
  6. Combat isolation by encouraging connections: Make opportunities for seeing friends and family; make time to chat regularly; engage them in sports, activities, silly and fun things; make music; walk a dog; try to get them involved and interested in something.
  7. Encourage a healthy lifestyle: Make sure your teen maintains routine physical activity, eats well, and gets regular sleep.
  8. Prioritize safety: Store objects such as medications, guns, sharp knives, ropes, cords, cleaning products, etc., that could be used in a suicide attempt in a safe and inaccessible area. 

If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help immediately via 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255), the Crisis Text Line at 741741, the TrevorLifeline at (866) 488-7386, or the TrevorText line at 678678.

Looking Out for Your Teen’s Mental Well-being

Make Your Teen's Mental Health a Priority

Make Your Teen's Mental Health a Priority

One in every five American teenagers and young adults lives with a behavioral health condition. How can you help your child?

Discussing mental health with children might seem intimidating — teenagers may be reluctant to talk about what’s bothering them and finding the right words can be difficult. However, it’s something families owe to themselves to focus on. The incidence of behavioral health concerns among teenagers is on the rise, and parents have the power to help.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in the rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers,” said Eric Gross, LPCC, director of clinical services at Our Lady of Peace, part of KentuckyOne Health. “Even more alarming is that self-injury is also on the rise. There’s a clear need for more open conversation about these topics so we can better understand the problem and get teens the help they need.”


Know the Signs


Many factors contribute to the increase in teens dealing with mental health issues, including bullying and self-esteem problems. The internet also plays a major role, as constant use of social media decreases face-to-face interaction and increases isolation.

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common behavioral health concerns in teens.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Frequent irritability or tiredness
  • Drop in school performance or time spent with friends
  • Constant sadness
  • Frequent trips to the school nurse’s office
  • Changes in sleep or eating routines

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Restlessness and difficulty falling asleep
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Excessive worrying or immediately jumping to the worst possible conclusion about situations

Download our Anxiety in Children and Teens Fact Sheet.

“Parents should watch for things like changes in academic performance, withdrawing from family or peer groups, and isolation,” said Heather Goodman, manager of assessment and referral services at Our Lady of Peace in Lexington, part of KentuckyOne Health. “As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. If you see an overall change in personality, that’s a legitimate concern.”


Seek Help and Find Hope


One of the first — and best — things that a parent can do to help is create an environment where their child feels like they can safely open up about issues they’re facing.

It’s normal for everyone to experience some shifts in mood, especially if something traumatic occurs, such as the loss of an elderly relative. But if a situation doesn’t seem like it’s improving and is affecting your teen’s overall functioning, it may be time to seek professional help. This could be through a mental health referral from a pediatrician or scheduling an appointment with the school counselor.

“Encourage children to open up and tell them that both you and the professional are there to help them,” Goodman said. “Therapy is a safe, judgment-free place for them to talk about their concerns.”

Being there for children involves giving them opportunities to talk and listen. Encourage young people to do both. Together with their physician and therapist, you can find a solution.


Silently Social


One of the biggest factors contributing to teens’ isolation today is the immense popularity of social media, notes Gross.

“Teens socialize through social media, and that’s not really what they need,” Gross said. “They’re missing out on that face-to-face connection.”

Gross advocates for taking regular social media breaks. Encourage teens to spend time with friends in person, ideally out in the fresh air, as a way to boost their mental wellbeing.


Suicide Prevention


Be proactive. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 15–24. Fortunately, in most cases, there are warning signs parents can watch for to help prevent these tragedies. They include:

  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Self-harm
  • Erratic behavior
  • Isolation from social relationships, poor performance at school and withdrawing from extracurricular activities
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Anxiety, unexplained fatigue, and excessive sadness or irritability

“Trust your instincts,” said Gross. “Sometimes, if a child doesn’t want to talk, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be heard.”

If you are concerned, talk with your child’s pediatrician about a mental health referral. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide are also good resources for more information. Noticing symptoms and getting help early are great ways to find a positive, and even lifesaving, solution.

Are you concerned your child may be living with anxiety or depression? Learn more about available behavioral health services or call the 24-hour HelpLine at 502.451.3333.

This article originally appeared in the 2017 Summer edition of One Health magazine. Sign up for your free digital subscription.

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“The wintertime and holidays can be difficult for many people suffering from depression or grieving the loss of a loved one,” said Kelly Gillooly, MEd, LCADC, director of behavioral health outreach at Our Lady of Peace (OLOP), part of KentuckyOne Health. “For those who struggle with depression during the holiday months, it’s important to not dwell on what the holidays are supposed to be like or how you’re supposed to feel.”


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  1. Accept help from others — whether it’s with cooking, shopping or decorating.
  2. Avoid alcohol and other substances used to self-medicate.
  3. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have the perfect holiday.
  4. Find someone you can turn to when you’re feeling stressed.
  5. Get some exercise. Physical activity can help relieve depression.
  6. Give yourself permission to grieve if you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one.

“If you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Everyone needs support from time to time in their lives,” Gillooly said.


Need help finding peace and hope during the holidays or colder months?


Please do not hesitate to call — day or night — Our Lady of Peace’s Assessment and Referral Center. Our Lady of Peace is open 24/7 and offers assessments at no charge.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of One Health Magazine. Want more behavioral health information like this? Subscribe to One Health Magazine to hear from experts.