Getting Better Together: Preventing Suicide in Children
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex of the British Royal Family, notably said, “It is okay to have depression, it is okay to have anxiety, and it is okay to have an adjustment disorder. We need to improve the conversation. We all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health.”
With that being said, we must recognize that mental health illness does not discriminate. Mental health illness affects all races, religions, sexes, and especially ages. In fact, the American Psychological Association estimates that 15 million of our nation’s youth can currently be diagnosed with a mental health illness. Children are the next generation, but mental health concerns can deprive them of their future. With suicide as the second leading cause of death for adolescents aged 15 to 24 years old according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), it’s imperative to educate our children on mental health illness and offer support to establish a solid foundation for their future mental health.
Understanding mental health can seem challenging, but there are a variety of resources available to minimize confusion and apprehension. Much like a child would visit a pediatrician for a physical ailment, it’s equally as important for them to visit a doctor to receive mental health treatment. Not sure where to start? Psychology Today offers detailed listings for mental health professionals that can be filtered by particular characteristics like specific issues, insurances, languages, faiths, and types of therapy. If you’re still not confident, prepare a set of questions to ask your child’s doctor by using additional resources for children’s mental health such as depression discussion guides.
It’s important to note that the majority of adolescents who have had thoughts of suicide have a serious mental health illness, usually depression. However, suicide is preventable. There is always hope and there is always help. The first step in being an advocate for children’s mental health illness is to be aware of signs and symptoms. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recognizes signs of depression that can lead to suicidal behavior, as:
- Feeling sad, empty, or tearful nearly every day.
- Loss of interest in activities that were enjoyed in the past.
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
- Difficulty thinking and concentrating.
- Complaints of continued boredom.
- Complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue with no actual physical problems.
- Expressions of guilt and/or not allowing anyone to give them praise or rewards.
It’s crucial to start a conversation with our children once symptoms start to manifest. ACCAP suggests that when talking with children about mental health illness, adults should:
- Communicate in a straightforward manner.
- Communicate at a level that is appropriate to a child’s age and development level.
- Have the discussion when the child feels safe and comfortable.
- Watch their child’s reaction during the discussion.
- Slow down or back up if the child becomes confused or looks upset.
One in five children has a diagnosable mental health issue, although nearly two-thirds of them get little or no help, according to Mental Health America(MHA). If left untreated, mental health illness contributes to an increased risk of suicide. Parents who are diligent in observing and noticing disruptions in their child’s behavior and emotions can more easily determine the best course of action to seek help for their child.
“We often don’t imagine that children and teens could actually attempt to end their lives, but unfortunately, it can and does happen,” according to Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. “So often these children showed some type of warning signs ahead of time. Talking openly about mental health and suicide can save children’s lives.”
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.
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