Teen Suicide Myths and Facts

Father and son on a bench in the gymnasium

Parenting tweens and teens comes with its own set of challenges, and one of the more daunting parts is navigating the topic of suicide. We understand that as a parent, the very idea can make your stomach drop and palms sweat. However, understanding and addressing the myths surrounding suicide can pave the way for better communication, support, and prevention.

Here’s a fresh look at some common myths and facts about suicide:

Myth 1: Asking about suicidal thoughts encourages them.

Truth: Opening a dialogue can be a lifeline. It creates an avenue for your teen to share their feelings and fears, possibly alleviating their sense of isolation.

Myth 2: Those who talk about suicide are just seeking attention.

Truth: Expressing such thoughts can be a cry for help. If your teen speaks about suicide, treat it seriously. Encourage open communication, ask them directly about their intentions, and consider professional help.

Myth 3: Suicide is always preceded by a long bout of depression.

Truth: Some who die by suicide show no outward signs of depression. In youth, this is particularly prominent since they can make the leap from thinking of suicide to acting on it in a short period of time.

Myth 4: Suicide is impossible to predict or prevent.

Truth: While some kids are experts at hiding their feelings, many show signs or have factors in their lives that can elevate their risk of suicide, such as:

  • A recent death of a friend or relative, whether by suicide or other means.
  • History of previous suicide attempts.
  • A preoccupation with death or vocal expressions of suicidal thoughts.
  • Manifestations of depression, conduct disorders, or challenges in adjusting, particularly if combined with substance abuse.
  • Actions like giving away cherished possessions or making final arrangements such as drafting a will.
  • Significant changes in sleep patterns, either oversleeping or insomnia.
  • Drastic shifts in eating habits, leading to noticeable weight loss or gain.
  • Social withdrawal from friends and family, coupled with other noticeable behavioral changes.
  • Opting out of group or communal activities and/or losing interest in past hobbies.
  • Increased nervousness, angry outbursts, impulsive actions, or recklessness.
  • Indifference towards personal appearance and health.
  • Bouts of irritability or episodes of unexplained tears.
  • Expressions of feeling unworthy or like a failure.
  • A pronounced lack of enthusiasm for the future.

Myth 6: Once suicidal, always suicidal.

Truth: The feeling of wanting to end one’s life can be transient—especially when coupled with the impulsivity of youth. With the right support and intervention, many young people move past these thoughts and lead fulfilling lives.

Myth 7: Only professional therapists can help.

Truth: While professional guidance is invaluable, the care and understanding from family and friends play a pivotal role. Sometimes, a listening ear and proactive parents are what teens need the most.

  • Families can support their teen by removing firearms and other methods of suicide from the home and securing all medications.
  • Parents can also share access to confidential resources like the suicide hotline at 9-8-8.

Myth 8: Tweens don’t really think about suicide.

Truth: Unfortunately, some do. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people and the age seems to be dropping. As parents, we need to be alert, understanding, and supportive.

Myth 8: Popular kids don’t struggle with suicidal thoughts.

Truth: As much as parents would love there to be a prescription to prevent suicide, there isn’t. Suicide is not correlated with a certain race, gender, ethnicity, economic status, popularity, or GPA.

Myth 10: Talking about feeling better means the risk is gone.

Truth: It’s natural to breathe a sigh of relief when a tween or teen begins acting more like their old selves.However, suddenly seeming at peace might indicate that they’ve made a decision about suicide. Stay connected and attentive.

Myth 11: Substance abuse and suicide aren’t related.

Truth: Substance abuse can amplify feelings of despair and increase impulsivity, making it a significant factor to consider.

Substance abuse can also give your teen the means to act. Evidence has shown that access to dangerous things like guns and drugs dramatically increases the risk of death by suicide.

The Heart of the Matter

Remember, each teen is unique. While these guidelines can offer some insights, the most crucial thing is to maintain an open, non-judgmental line of communication with your child. Let them know they’re loved, valued, and that they can always turn to you, no matter what.

Lori Jo Leonard, LCSW

Lori Jo Leonard, LCSW

Lori Jo is a therapist in our Stansbury Park office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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