How can you help a child avoid suicide risk?

kid sitting against a wall with his head down

Youth Suicide Prevention

Dr. B. Jill McCabe and Erin Rovelli, RN serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents. It is also the first and only sensory-friendly ER in the region. 

Being a parent is difficult. One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is realizing that you don’t always know what your children are thinking and feeling. Unfortunately, those unknown thoughts and feelings can sometimes lead to suicide. No parent wants to believe that their child may be experiencing these thoughts, but there is no better time than the present to talk to your children and intervene as necessary.

Currently, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young adults ages 15-24. The risk for suicide often increases during the teenage years when external circumstances can be overwhelming. One in five young people struggle with mental health issues which can intensify the challenges they face – such as disciplinary problems, interpersonal losses, family violence, sexual orientation confusion, physical and sexual abuse, and bullying.

It is important to help young people develop healthy coping skills before a crisis strikes. This will allow your child to be more resilient when dealing with adversity. Approximately 80% of teens who contemplate suicide want others to know about it and to stop them.  It’s critical that we pay attention to the social, emotional, and physical needs of young people; it cannot or should not be ignored.

How can parents help a child avoid depression and suicide risk?

  • Develop an open, trusting relationship; you want your child to know that they can come to you. Encourage consistent conversations where the child feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk about suicide. This is especially important if your child knows someone who has attempted or completed suicide. Don’t be shy or afraid to talk about it. Encourage your child to express their own thoughts and feelings about the topic.
  • Get feedback from those who spend time with your child: friends, friends’ parents, teachers, and coaches. If you are worried or suspect that something is going on, reach out to those who spend dedicated periods of time with your child and may have different perspectives.
  • Develop a plan of action with your child. Who else is your child comfortable speaking with?  Identify those individuals. Ensure that your child knows who to contact at school (e.g., social worker or counselor) if he or she or someone they know is thinking about suicide or self-harm. Utilize local and national resources including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Worried about suicide? Learn the “FACTS”:

If you are concerned that someone you know may be at risk for suicide, the first step in helping may be as simple as learning these FACTS or possible warning signs:

  • Feelings – Expressing hopelessness about the future, guilt, self-hatred, etc.
  • Actions – Displaying severe/overwhelming pain or distress.
  • Changes – Showing worrisome behavioral cues or noticeable changes in behavior, including; loss of interest in friends or activities, anger or hostility, changes in sleep patterns, or sudden isolation.
  • Threats – Talking about, writing about, or making plans for suicide.
  • Situations – Experiencing stressful situations including those that involve loss or change, create personal humiliation, or disciplinary problems at home, school, or with the law. History of anxiety or depression.  These particular situations can serve as triggers for suicide.

If suicide risk is apparent, watch for these signs that help is needed

If you notice any of these warning signs, you can and must help.  Here’s how:

  1. Express concern about what you are observing
  2. Ask directly about suicide
  3. Encourage the individual to talk to someone they trust or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  4. If you have an IMMEDIATE concern about someone’s safety, call 911 immediately.

National suicide resources:

Northern Virginia suicide and mental health resources:

Download a printable list of mental health services in Loudoun County

Visit the Fairfax County behavioral health services website

Inova Behavioral Health services

More Loudoun County resources:

  • Loudoun County Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center 703-777-0320 or Crisis Link 703-527-4077.
  • Inova Loudoun Hospital Psychiatric Liaison (703) 858-6632
  • Inova Behavioral Health Outpatient Center (703) 289-7560
  • Inova Keller Center (703) 218-8535
  • SCAN in Northern Virginia

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