Location: Bradley Hospital

Bradley Hospital

Suicide Prevention: Tips for Parents

There are many topics parents anticipate talking to their kids about - dating, bullying, sex, hygiene. But, what about suicide? It may be a topic that most parents never dream of having to address with their kids, but in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, Bradley Hospital would like to remind parents that it’s too important a topic to ignore.

According to the 2011 Rhode Island Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10 percent of male high school students and 15 percent of female high school students in Rhode Island reported seriously considering suicide in the previous year. Nine percent of male high school students and 8 percent of female high school students in Rhode Island reported having attempted suicide in the previous year.

“We know these figures are not merely a result of better reporting. Our society is more stressful. Drug and alcohol abuse exacerbates the problem, and the means to commit suicide are more readily available,” said Jennifer Jencks, Ph.D., assistant director of the Access Center at Bradley Hospital.

Contrary to common perception, children as young as elementary school age increasingly attempt suicide. The probability that they will complete it, however, increases with age. Younger children don't usually know how to fatally injure themselves. They sometimes carry out actions that they hear adults describe as deadly. For example, they run into traffic because they are aware that "you can get killed crossing in front of moving cars."

Both girls and boys are vulnerable to suicide. However, boys are more likely to use a violent means, such as shooting themselves, while girls are more likely to take pills. Overall, approximately 80 percent of all suicides are boys.

No socioeconomic status is immune, and children and teens with all types of personalities and temperaments can be victims. A child doesn't have to be a stoic type or be depressed to contemplate suicide. Emotionally and physically challenged children are also capable of suicide.

“Sometimes the signs of depression are obvious,” said Jencks. “A child may talk about his feelings and show his depression overtly. But, at other times, the signs are subtle. A child may be very lonely and sad but may compensate by being especially outgoing or cooperative with others. Excessive anger and irritability can also be signs of depression.” Jencks’ advice is to be observant of your children all the time and to pay special attention to changes that persist or seem unnatural.

Some common signs of depression include:


Behavioral Changes

  • Isolating themselves from peers and family
  • Loss of interest in friends
  • Loss of interest in activities the child has enjoyed
  • Negative point of view
  • Frequent thoughts of death
  • Expressions of hopelessness
  • Suicidal statements or plans
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Anger or irritability
  • Delinquency such as school truancy, stealing or lying

Physiological Changes

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Serious loss of or increase in appetite
  • Constant fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Decrease in hygiene or self-care

While these can also be symptoms of substance abuse, depression is often accompanied by alcohol or drug use. The signs can appear gradually or over just a few days, and can be triggered by an event, such as a breakup with a boyfriend, the death of a pet or an embarrassing experience at school. Even parents who pay close attention to their children's behavior can miss signs of vulnerability.

Jencks offers the following tips for parents:

  • Talk to your children and try to understand their feelings.
  • Listen when children want to talk, and take them seriously.
  • Show love and concern openly, so there is little chance that your feelings will be mistaken.
  • Trust your instincts. If you sense something is wrong, ask your child directly about your suspicion.
  • Build your child's self-esteem with complimentary words and actions as positive reinforcement.
  • Do not dismiss disruptive behavior as attention-seeking. Check out the underlying cause.
  • Do not discount your child's negative feelings. Saying "you shouldn't feel that way" rarely helps.
  • Do not let fear make you silent. Talk to your child.

If unsure about the symptoms a child is experiencing, parents, caregivers and teachers can call the free Kids’ Link RI hotline at 1-855-KID LINK and speak with a clinician to receive direction about the appropriate next step for managing their situation.