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Absent Parent Doubles Child Suicide Risk

Experts Offer Tips on How You Can Reduce the Risk in Your Kids

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Another thing not to change: Discipline. "Set rules. Maintain rules. Be consistent with rules."

  • ... But pay special attention. "It's not that parents lose interest, but often they are so caught up in their own emotions that in order to get attention, the child may engage in acting-out behavior," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Douglas Jacobs, MD, spokesman for the American Psychiatric Association and founder of the National Depression Screening Program. "Clearly, there's a burden on single parents to sometimes make an extra effort to pay attention to their child."
  • Get friendly with their friends. "If a child is having suicidal thoughts, they tend to share them with their friends -- and generally not their parents," Jacobs tells WebMD. "It may be wise for parents to talk to their friends." If you find the buddies are staying mum, you may want to borrow Jacobs' pet phrase when he lectures high school students on suicide prevention: "It's better to have a mad friend than a dead one."
  • Relax. A single-parent household is a risk factor in child and teen suicide, but it's not the only one. "Factors that play a more crucial role in suicide risk include depression or other changes in mood, acting out, and substance abuse -- which is the major risk factor," says Madelyn Gould PhD, MPH, professor of child psychiatry and public health at Columbia University. "Be vigilant to how your kids are behaving."

Jacobs offers this advice: "Be mindful of any family history of suicide and mental illness, and be aware how family relationships impact the child's developing self-esteem. Mostly, just pay attention to your kids and do the best job you can."

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