David C. Rettew, MD, is a child psychiatrist at the UVM Medical Center, where he is Director of the Pediatric Psychiatry Clinic.

The recent tragedy surrounding the attempted suicide in Walpole, New Hampshire reminds us all that the danger of youth suicide remains active in our own backyard.  In conjunction with the recently released Vermont Youth Suicide Prevention Platform and its new websites, one designed for parents and clinicians, and one designed for youth themselves, it is worth thinking about some practical suggestions for parents.

  • Just ask about it.  This sounds simple, but many youth will tell you how they feel if they feel the question is coming from genuine concern.
  • Know the warning signs that indicate the possibility of a child that is seriously depressed and may be contemplating suicide.
  • Know some of the triggers that can cause depressed youth to act upon their thoughts.  Relationship problems, bullying, and substance use can all increase the risk.
  • Offer hope.  While expressions like “cheer up” or “smile” can be counterproductive, it can be useful to help your child see that they can get through this difficult time and are loved by many people around them.
  • Encourage your child and adolescent in health promotion activities that improve mood.  Offer to do some of these things with them.
  • Encourage your child to speak to a responsible adult if they have any concern that a friend or peer may be thinking of suicide.  It could literally save their life.
  • If concerned about your child’s safety, take steps to make lethal means of suicide unavailable.
  • Do not leave acutely suicidal individuals alone.
  • Seek professional help if you have any concerns about depression or suicide.  Many of the warning signs are relatively nonspecific and it can be difficult to differentiate between a major depression and the more typical moodiness of adolescence.

The suffering of pediatric depression can often be alleviated and many youth suicides can be prevented with a coordinated and comprehensive approach. For those interested in more child mental health information, please visit my blog for more information.  Additional resources can also be found at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

David C. Rettew, MD, is a child psychiatrist at the UVM Medical Center, where he is Director of the Pediatric Psychiatry Clinic.  He is also Director of the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship and an associate professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

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