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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | July 1, 2016

The Surprising Truth About Suicide

I’ve chosen not to address a facebook question today because of a pressing issue that has come to my attention this week. I had a parent approach me with a question. One of the child’s friends had just committed suicide. The question was, “How do I talk about suicide without introducing the idea into my own child’s mind?”

Don’t be afraid to talk, you won’t plant the idea of suicide.

The short answer to that parent’s question is to just talk. Don’t be afraid to discuss suicide—all aspects. People are always surprised to find out that the scientific evidence states that talking about suicide does not increase a child’s risk. It does not introduce the idea. If a child was contemplating or toying with the idea of suicide, the conversation is often a welcome relief. If anything, talking about it may prevent it. If the child had no thoughts of suicide before, the child may simply struggle with trying to understand why anyone would do that (not make them do it).

When one suicide happens, watch out for more to come.

While talking about it won’t increase your child’s risk (or introduce the idea), the actual act of another kid committing suicide will increase your kid’s risk. In the educational arena, when there is one suicide, often more follow. The kid who may have been considering suicide is enticed by the attention surrounding the one who did commit suicide. Unfortunately, sometimes that is all that is needed to motivate a kid to complete the act. Consequently, there is usually increased school counselors and support following a suicide.

Suicide Quick Facts.

A recent survey of high school students showed that 60% of them had thought about killing themselves, while 9% had tried at least once. That’s nearly one out of every 10 students who have tried! Suicide is the third leading cause of death in persons 15-24 years old and the fourth leading cause of death in ages 10-14. Wow, only 3 other causes kill 10 year old’s more than suicide. That’s tragic. FYI, firearms are used in half of completed suicides (in the 15+ age group). Firearms in the home are associated with higher suicide risk. Firearm attempts are usually lethal. Pill ingestions are the number one method of attempt overall. These facts are according the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What should a parent do?

Talk to your kid, especially if there has been an exposure. Don’t assume your “perfectly well-adjusted child” is ok. Ask about your child’s take on the situation. Did your child know the deceased? What does your child know of the reasons? What does your child think of all of it? Your child’s answers will help you gauge how worried you need to be (or not need to be). If there is any doubt in your mind whether or not your child is ok, seek the advice of a professional. Take suicide seriously.

Talking tips:

  • Listen
  • Use specific words, like suicide
  • Express love
  • Don’t be dismissive
  • Don’t get angry
  • (If you suspect suicidal thoughts—seek immediate help)

Suicide is nearly unfathomable in an adult. It makes my heart sick when I hear about it. As a medical community, neighbors, friends, adults, I feel like we’ve all failed our young ones when they don’t see another way out of their problems. Hopefully by talking about it and increasing our awareness we can help prevent more youth from committing suicide.