Parents have been asking me some tough questions recently about their teenagers being stressed to the point that they might try to hurt themselves or even try to commit suicide. Rather than stress out parents on a topic few people want to discuss, let me try to provide some helpful teen suicide facts.

It is important for parents to be aware that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds (surpassed by accidents). The risk of teen suicide is 4 to 10 times higher if teens have access to firearms in the home.

Teen Suicide – Who is at risk?

Usually it’s the teen who feels disconnected and isolated from family and friends, or who might have an underlying and undetected psychological disorder like depression. Often a stressful event such as failure at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a major family conflict can trigger thoughts of suicide in a teen.

Teen Suicide – What can we do?

First, be aware of some warning signs, such as when your teen appears to pull away from family and friends, is no longer eating or sleeping well, and suddenly starts showing signs of self-destructive behavior like drinking and taking drugs, especially when they have never done this type of behavior before.

If you do see any of these signs in your teen, don’t be afraid to use the word suicide in a conversation with your teen, since getting the word out in the open may help your teenager understand that someone has heard his or her cries for help. This does not plant the idea into their head, but enables you to get them help before something bad happens.

There is also a national suicide hotline number, 1-800-SUICIDE, that can help get your teen the emergency help they need. Of course, your older child or teen’s health care professional is always poised to help if you are worried about your teen thinking about suicide. If you do own a gun and think your teen is depressed or having mood swings, store your gun outside your home for the time being until your teen gets the help he or she needs.

While suicide prevention is not an easy topic to think about, hopefully raising your awareness about this topic may allow you to be a lifesaver for someone you love.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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