Suicide Prevention Begins with All of Us

This Nation­al Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Week, Eliz­a­beth Kuri­an, DO, Behav­ioral & Men­tal Health, Psy­chi­a­try, shares details on the trig­gers and warn­ing signs of poten­tial sui­ci­dal behav­ior in chil­dren as well as the influ­ence the inter­net and social media have on sui­ci­dal behav­ior, and steps par­ents or loved ones can take to dis­cuss sui­cide with their children.

If you or a loved one is expe­ri­enc­ing thoughts of sui­cide, a men­tal health or sub­stance abuse cri­sis or any oth­er kind of emo­tion­al dis­tress, call a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al or the Nation­al Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line at 988.

Accord­ing to Psy​chi​a​try​.org, fifty per­cent of men­tal ill­ness begins by age 14 and sev­en­ty-five per­cent begins by age 24. Can you explain this age of onset?

Dr. Kuri­an: Anx­i­ety dis­or­ders are the most com­mon psy­chi­atric ill­ness­es that occur in the pop­u­la­tion and are also the ones that present at the ear­li­est age. Oth­er diag­noses such as Autism and ADHD also begin at a very young age. Anx­i­ety dis­or­ders present in a time­line that makes sense with typ­i­cal devel­op­men­tal stages: first with sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety in young chil­dren, then gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety in ado­les­cents, and then social anx­i­ety in teenagers.

Sui­cide is a lead­ing cause of death in chil­dren. With depres­sion or oth­er men­tal health con­cerns pos­si­bly dis­guis­ing them­selves in typ­i­cal teenage” behav­iors, what are some of the biggest warn­ing signs that a child may be depressed?

Dr. Kuri­an: Some mood­i­ness, irri­tabil­i­ty, and push­ing away from par­ents as teenagers try to estab­lish them­selves as indi­vid­u­als is a nor­mal part of typ­i­cal teenage development.” 

The fol­low­ing would be warn­ing signs of depression: 

  • iso­lat­ing from both fam­i­ly and friends 
  • poor school atten­dance (drop from their pre­vi­ous achieve­ment status) 
  • loss of inter­est in things they pre­vi­ous­ly enjoyed 
  • changes in appetite or sleep­ing patterns 
  • increased use of drugs or alcohol 
  • anger out­bursts
  • signs or state­ments of hopelessness

Evi­dence sug­gests that the inter­net and social media can influ­ence sui­cide-relat­ed behav­ior. What do you con­tribute to this correlation?

Dr. Kuri­an: Some stres­sors that occur online today include an increased like­li­hood of expo­sure to cyber-bul­ly­ing and 247 round-the-clock infor­ma­tion to peo­ple who can poten­tial­ly be mean or dis­heart­en­ing. There is also more poten­tial expo­sure to graph­ic con­tent which can cause desen­si­ti­za­tion to cer­tain sub­jects, as well as glo­ri­fy some aspects of sui­cide — giv­ing chil­dren and teenagers a false sense that sui­cide can solve their problems.

How can par­ents or loved ones talk to kids about their social media pres­ence and be aware of warn­ing signs there may be a big­ger problem?

Dr. Kuri­an: At the begin­ning of giv­ing your chil­dren access to the inter­net and social media, pro­vide con­sis­tent edu­ca­tion on inter­net safe­ty and edu­cate them on set­ting clear bound­aries and expec­ta­tions regard­ing their online access. 

Some warn­ing signs of a big­ger prob­lem may be exces­sive use of screen time, lack of try­ing to con­nect with fam­i­ly or friends in real life (IRL),” and low mood or self-esteem.

How can par­ents talk with their kids about death by sui­cide when it occurs in their circle?

Dr. Kuri­an: The most impor­tant thing par­ents can do is be there for their chil­dren. Reg­u­lar­ly ask them how they are doing using open-end­ed ques­tions. Avoid jump­ing in to fix things,” offer solu­tions or react with judg­ment. Rather, lis­ten and val­i­date their feel­ings, and fol­low their lead as to how you can sup­port them. Fol­low back up often about their feel­ings, how they are doing and if they need addi­tion­al support.

If a par­ent or loved one sus­pects a child may need men­tal health sup­port, what is the first step?

Dr. Kuri­an: Talk with your child and under­stand how they are doing. Then, reach out to their pri­ma­ry care physi­cian and school coun­selors, who can offer advice, sup­port, and refer­rals for more spe­cial­ized care. 

If they are expe­ri­enc­ing thoughts of sui­cide, a men­tal health or sub­stance abuse cri­sis or any oth­er kind of urgent emo­tion­al dis­tress, the Nation­al Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line is avail­able all day, every day at 988.

The Duly Health and Care team is here to sup­port you and your fam­i­ly through any dif­fi­cult jour­ney. Sched­ule a vis­it with your pri­ma­ry care provider or learn more about our behav­ioral and men­tal health ser­vices today.

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