Q: I am concerned my teenager is contemplating suicide or intentionally causing self-harm. Do you have any advice for parents on how to deal with this very frightening situation?
A: Discovering your child is experiencing suicidal thoughts and/or self-harm behavior can obviously be very alarming for a parent. The suicide rates in Tennessee have been trending upward and are now ahead of national suicide rates. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that, among 15- to 24-year-olds in Tennessee, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
Teenagers may experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed and other fears while growing up. Feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts can develop during adolescence as well. For some teens, suicide may appear to be a solution to their problems and stress. Some teens may also act impulsively (i.e. after a breakup or a fight with parents) to cause self-harm.
I advise parents to be aware of the following warning signs of possible suicidal behavior: changes in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawal from friends and family, rebellious behavior, drug and alcohol use, neglecting personal appearance, a marked personality change, decline in grades, frequent physical complaints and not having interest in usual activities.
If you recognize one or more of these warning signs, I would encourage you to talk to your child about their concerns and to seek help from a physician or qualified mental health professional. If your child acts acutely suicidal, it is strongly advised you immediately bring him or her to the nearest hospital or emergency room for evaluation.
— Dr. Katherine Goudelocke, UT Erlanger Behavioral Health; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society