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.