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Health & Parenting

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Teens, Parents Underestimate Teen Suicide Risk

Study Shows Parents and Teens Believe Suicide Isn't a Problem in Their Communities

Screening for Suicide Risk

Schwartz says pediatricians can help by regularly screening older children and teens for depression and other psychological stresses that could put them at risk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends asking adolescent patients about mood disorders, suicidal thoughts, and other risk factors including sexual orientation.

Gay and bisexual teens are especially at risk, with one survey reporting suicide attempts among 28% of gay and bisexual teenage boys and 20% of gay and bisexual teenage girls.

According to the AAP, signs that a depressed teenager might be suicidal include:

  • A dramatic change in personality
  • Relationship problems, especially with a romantic partner
  • A drop in grades or quality of schoolwork
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • A change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Writing notes or poems about death
  • Talking about suicide, even jokingly

If you suspect teenagers might be thinking about suicide, the AAP recommends:

  • Act quickly. Suicide is preventable, but quick action is important.
  • Ask about it, and don't be afraid to say the word "suicide." Using the word may help at-risk teenagers understand that someone has heard their cries for help.
  • Reassure teenagers that you love them, and make sure they know that no matter how bad the problems seem, they can be worked out.
  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings, and listen carefully. Don't dismiss the problem or get angry.
  • Remove all lethal weapons from your home, including guns, pills, kitchen utensils, and ropes.
  • Seek professional help. Ask your teenager's pediatrician for guidance.

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