<AUDIO: Addressing Teen Suicide in the Media Podcast>
As the pastor who oversees Celebrate Recovery and the Landing at my church, I was recently asked to join a podcast discussion about teen suicide and its portrayal in the controversial Netflix series, “Thirteen Reasons Why.” I was later asked to join His Radio for an on-air broadcast and video playback discussion of the program as well. In both cases, we talked about the content of the program but wanted to equip parents to have a larger conversation about teen suicide. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those 10-24 years of age. More than 90% of those who take their life in this age group also struggle with some type of mental health issue or addiction, so it’s vital to have healthy conversations and get help for your family when it’s needed. The three questions I was asked about were ways to avoid a crisis in your family, what warning signs to look for, and what to do if there is a crisis. I’ve outlined some thoughts on each of those below. You can use them to start a discussion in your family, especially if your children have watched “Thirteen Reasons Why.” If you have questions or concerns about your child, I encourage you to contact your church or a professional counselor.
WAYS TO AVOID A CRISIS BEFORE THERE’S A THREAT:
- Get involved in every aspect of your child’s life. That doesn’t mean you’re controlling or refuse to let them make decisions and grow. It does mean, however, that you know what’s happening at school, what they’re watching on television, and who their friends are. It also means building a relationship with your child’s teachers and ministry leaders.
- Make sure you and your children are involved in a healthy community of believers and spiritual growth.
- Work to create a safe environment where it’s okay and normal to talk about struggles in your family (including your own, in an age-appropriate way).
- Be willing to address your own issues in a way that will model hopeful endurance and God’s healing power.
- Remember that the family is a model of the church. While each person’s relationship with Christ is individual, there’s also a corporate sense of spiritual growth. Make sure your family is growing together.
- Seek professional and spiritual support for any struggles in the family. I strongly encourage parents to attend an Adult Small Group for encouragement and spiritual growth while getting your children involved in age-appropriate Student Groups. You may also want to consider working through struggles in the family by having adults attend a Support Group or Celebrate Recovery. To support teens who are struggling with life issues, see if your church has The Landing or other support groups for teens.
WARNING SIGNS AND AREAS TO WATCH:
If you’re worried about your child, get help. Four out of five teens that take their life show warning signs, but statistic means some don’t. It’s important to understand that every individual is different. This list is not (and could not be) an exhaustive list of suicidal warning signs, nor does the presence of these concerns in a child’s life necessarily mean the child is suicidal. They are, however, a reason to promote discussion with your child and should be addressed by seeking support.
- Dramatic mood changes such as signs of depression or outbursts of anger.
- Drastic changes in your child’s circle of friends.
- A drastic change in appearance.
- Isolation and other signs of withdrawing.
- A loss of interest in the things your child loves.
- Drug or Alcohol use.
- Experiencing a significant loss.
- Giving their possessions away.
- Any mention of wanting to die, that their problems are unsolvable, that the world would be better off without them, or any other related language.
It’s also important to continually evaluate your home environment. Is it healthy?
WHEN THERE IS CONCERN OR A THREAT OF SELF HARM:
First, don’t be afraid to discuss suicide with your child. Many parents fear planting the idea in their child’s mind by bringing it up. But if you feel something is wrong, it’s much more important to be sure your child is safe. If the child is struggling with depression or other issues, get them professional help. If you’re afraid they might hurt themselves, don’t be afraid to ask the big questions:
Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Do you have a timeline, method or plan to kill yourself?
If the answer to any of those three is yes, the child should not be left alone. It should be assumed they’re in imminent danger.
- Get immediate help. Call 911 and get your child professional help. You can also call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The top priority is to make sure your child is safe.
- After the initial crisis, follow-up and supervise your child’s treatment. At this stage, it’s important for all members of the family to seek help. The parents (and perhaps the siblings) should seek professional and spiritual support.
- As previously stated, it’s also important to evaluate the home environment. Are there any changes that need to be made?
- Be loving but persistent in ongoing treatment. Do not lecture, but insist on being involved.
- Get the child (and the rest of your family) involved in a healthy community of believers who will build you up as you grow.
Some of the information contained here was gathered from CDC studies, recent AACC presentations, Group’s Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry and The Quick Reference Guide to Counseling Teens by Tim Clinton, Chap Clark and Joshua Straub.
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linton, Chap Clark and Joshua Straub.