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Teenage Suicide

Air Date: 06/16/10 Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839. The third leading cause of death for young people, 15-24, is suicide. A daunting statistic! The idea of teenage suicide terrifies parents. You're responsible to keep your kids safe, protect them from harm, teach them what they need to know to make it in this world; if your child makes a suicide attempt, if your child dies from their own actions, you feel you've failed and failed miserably. There are some things you can do to protect your children from suicide. Begin talking with your kids about suicide by the time they're in middle school. Talking about suicide does not give them the idea to kill themselves. By middle school, kids know that other kids sometimes try to kill themselves. They know through movies and television, the music they're listening to, their friends, books, gossip they hear about famous people. Like it or not, by the time your kids are in middle school, they know that people kill themselves; they know that sometimes young people, people their age, kill themselves. But they're kids, they may not grasp that suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem, a permanent solution that will ruin the rest of your life as a parent, a solution that will effect all of their friends, everyone they know. Talk about suicide, teaching that it's a really destructive thing to do, that there are ALWAYS other solutions that will work better than ending your life. Tell them that if they feel so desperately unhappy that they think not being alive is a better choice, they have to talk with you so you can help them; you won't be disappointed in them you'll be worried for them, but they won't be in trouble. Stay tuned in to the information your children are absorbing. Listen to the music they're listening to day and night; if the content of the music advocates violence, suicide, or values you abhor, then don't let them listen to it. Know their passwords and regularly check the internet sites they visit, which YouTube videos they watch, read their Facebook or Myspace pages, scan their emails and read their texts. Don't deceive them by pretending you don't do this; have the house rule that "no password, no access" and let them know you'll occasionally scan their internet and phone communications. It's part of being a parent to supervise; you're losing a rich source of information to fall for your teen's argument that you're invading their privacy; they're kids, they don't have the right to ultimate privacy until they're mature enough to look after themselves and pay their own way. Don't talk about what you learn in their communications unless it alarms you about issues of safety. Suicide is an issue of safety. If you're a household with guns, keep your guns locked up where your kids don't have the combination to the gun safe. Young men kill themselves with guns. If you've got prescription medicines in the house that could be taken in an attempted overdose, keep them locked up. Dangerous medicines include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, painkillers, tranquilizers. If your young person is taking medications for their mental health, don't give them their whole prescription at one time so they never have access to enough pills to cause them damage. If someone else in your house takes these meds, figure out how to secure access to them so an impulsive teen can't get to them. The most difficult to detect way a teen can kill themselvf is with Tylenol or Aspirin. Picture the teenage girl whose first love breaks up with her; she storms home, thinking she'll die of her broken heart and impulsively takes a bottle of Tylenol. Mom knows something is wrong because she's in bed crying, but she doesn't tell Mom about the bottle of pills she swallowed because she doesn't want Mom to worry or be disappointed in her. Daughter wakes up the next day, she didn't die from the bottle of pills and today, she doesn't even want to; the teenage flurry of emotion has passed but her liver is still processing the acetomeniphen in the Tylenol. Three days, a week later, she comes home from school in excruciating belly pain; you rush her to the ER to find out, her liver has been fatally damaged and all modern science can offer is to keep her comfortable during her final hours. Overdoses of Tylenol or Aspirin when not treated immediately, are lethal. I believe knowledge is power. Consider teaching your children that Tylenol or Aspirin in overdose are as deadly as gunshots; teach them these drugs are not the kind you can take, have your stomach pumped and go home. Then keep these drugs secure so your teenager can't get enough to swallow to ruin her liver. Before the suicide attempt, if you're worried your child is even thinking about leaving this world, ask them directly: "are you thinking about hurting yourself?" If they're in trouble, you get them to a mental health professional and until their safety is professionally assessed, you watch them constantly to protect them from harm; I mean constantly, when asleep, when in the bathroom, constantly. Asking about suicide does not give them the idea. Not asking, may keep you out of the loop of being able to help your child.