If you’ve read the vague warning signs of suicide and questioned whether you’d be able to spot them accurately, you’re not alone. Suicide is preventable with careful consideration of what to look for. It’s not enough to force your teen out of their room after they isolate for a few days. It’s important to recognize the warning signs as well as know how to prevent adverse outcomes through your actions and communication. 

It’s rarely as straightforward as it seems to prevent someone from taking their own life. Risk factors for suicide aren’t cut-and-dry, but there are some signs you can look out for. The focus should be, then, on identifying the root of these issues you’re noticing. 

Signs of Suicidal Thoughts or Plans

Youth suicide often blindsides those loved ones they leave behind. However, there are some commonalities to look for, including: 

  • Acting out;
  • Apathy toward health, responsibilities, and the future;
  • Changes in eating habits;
  • Crying with no discernable explanation;
  • Depression;
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts;
  • Expressions of unworthiness or failure;
  • Frequent irritability;
  • Giving away possessions;
  • Losing or gaining weight;
  • Major behavioral changes, such as withdrawal or isolation;
  • Making a will or leaving a note to “open later;”
  • Preoccupation with themes of death;
  • Prior suicide attempts; 
  • Recent traumatic or life-changing events, such as the suicide of a friend or family member;
  • Sleeping too much or too little; 
  • Substance abuse;
  • A sudden change to an upbeat disposition after exhibiting the aforementioned signs.

Not every one of these signs is cause for alarm. Instead of taking drastic measures at the first sign you notice on this list, try to use the following techniques with the young adult in your life for the best outcome.

How To Take Appropriate Action

Knowing the signs to look for is one thing. Understanding how to approach the situation appropriately is another task altogether — but a crucial one. 

Listen Attentively

A 2019 study published by the Internal Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being found that most adults who have survived a suicide attempt experienced disappointment if someone didn’t try to intervene. This is entirely based on the individual’s perception of intervention and care. You can care deeply and still not show it in the way the person wants or needs at that moment. Often, parents or other guardians and authority figures may jump to punishing a child or restricting their access to things they love. While this is an attempt to thwart bad behavior, it may further isolate them and make them feel as though they’re being punished for having negative emotions. This inevitably leads to bottling these emotions inside and feeling alone when dealing with them. 

Instead, listen attentively to what the child or adolescent has to say. You don’t particularly have to understand or empathize — just be there for them. Express that you care about what they have to say. This will be much more effective than trying to force a solution on them or pry their feelings out. 

Maintain Open Communication

Similarly, keep the lines of communication open at all times. If you give multiple ways to contact you and encourage your teen to reach out whenever they need to, they’ll be more likely to take advantage of this in times of emergency. Sharing your time can also encourage them to open up about their thoughts and feelings, fostering an environment of open and honest discourse.

Create a Safe Space

The 2019 International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being study also found a common thread among adults with past suicide attempts: feeling a disconnect with their environment. Children often thrive if they know they have a safe and supportive space to share their struggles. This can help them feel valued and understood. This can come in the form of open communication, active listening, or even a physical safe space. Creating a private room with their favorite things and a cozy, inviting atmosphere could prompt them to open up.

Promote Nutrition for Cognitive Well-Being

It’s also a good idea to keep healthy food around so kids and teens have easy access to it. Although you may notice changes in their eating behavior, like overeating junk food or skimping on meals, simply making nutritious food appealing and easy to grab and consume may make all the difference. After all, proper nutrition plays a role in cognitive health

Developing brains stand to benefit from nutritious foods, so stock on what you can. Some ideas include trail mix, green smoothies, cups of berries, and whole grain cereal. Simply having access to these foods can help boost cognitive functioning, allowing adolescents to feel better about themselves and their performance in school or extracurricular activities. 

Foster Positive Social Development

Children and adolescents need social skills to flourish. Even if they are a self-proclaimed introvert, it’s still crucial to develop socially. In fact, self-isolation increases the risk of suicide. Rather than questioning why they don’t want to hang out with others, just make it possible and intriguing for them to do so. 

Set up get-togethers or parties to boost kids’ social development. Get involved with school or sports functions and show your support. The fact that you are there cheering them on in all that they do will be more likely to give them the drive to socialize and be active.

What To Do Next

If young adults express thoughts of suicide or self-harm, treat it as a serious matter. Avoid minimizing their feelings and reassure them that seeking help is a sign of strength. Provide them with the resources they need to learn about their symptoms and start on a path to a healthier outlook on life. This can include a combination of therapy, psychiatry, group counseling, social activities, and trusted adults for support. Remember that antidepressants alone may not solve suicidal ideation, and close monitoring for mental health changes during treatment is imperative. 

Remember that the child or teen in your life is human. Treat them as such, and intervene when they need it most. 

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