Excerpt from the book “Helping Your Depressed Teenager” by Gerald D. Oster, PhD and Sarah S. Montgomery, MSW
Fevers can easily be measured by a thermometer, but the risk for suicide cannot be as easily assessed. No foolproof instrument exists to indicate who is highly suicidal and who is not. There is no profile or checklist that definitively characterizes a suicidal person. Suicide, like most human behavior, is hard to predict.
However, most suicidal individuals do convey their intentions to someone in their social network, be it friends, family, or co-workers. Sometimes, these messages are overt. Michael, for example, let his supervisor on his paper route know that he had been thinking of killing himself: When asked why he had neglected to deliver the paper the previous three mornings, Michael told Mary, “I can’t do it anymore. I need an escape…I think being dead is the only answer. You might as well find another paper boy.”
In many cases, the clues are more subtle and disguised. Experts cannot say with precision whether a person will or will not commit suicide. Yet, there are several danger signals, particularly when seen in combination, that demand immediate concern and attention.
Parents of potentially suicidal teens must stay informed and must remain watchful observiers. The best defense against suicide is awareness and knowledge. Many of the signs of suicide risk overlap with signs of depression for the simple fact that most youths who attempt suicide are indeed depressed. Parents should reach out to a professional trained in recognizing suicide warnings if they have any concerns.
Suicide attempts usually do not happen without some signals that indicate something is wrong. Research states that four out of five people who kill themselves provide many signals of their intentions. It is essential to be alert to these early clues. Parents should take a teenager’s suicide attempts and fatalistic statements seriously and should not be afraid to talk openly about their concerns. Even after it seems as if the worst is over, it could be that a teenager may have made the decision to commit suicide. Parents should learn the warning signs and keep them fresh in their minds.