DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My daughter has struggled with depression as a teen, and sometimes I worry she may consider suicide. I don't want to make things worse by bringing it up, though. What are the signs that a teen may be thinking about suicide? Should I talk to her about my concerns?
ANSWER: You should definitely talk to your daughter about your concerns. Many parents share your fear that bringing up the topic of suicide may put it into a child's mind when they were not considering it before. But it does not hurt to ask. It helps.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among those ages 10-24. Suicide is highly associated with psychiatric illness, such as depression, and often follows stressful life events. Problems with school or in personal relationships may seem insurmountable in the moment. A history of psychological trauma and current problems with alcohol or drugs may underlie, or facilitate, someone's thoughts of suicide and suicidal actions.
Specific suicide warning signs to watch for include talking about wanting to die or to commit suicide, or looking for a way to commit suicide. Also, pay attention to what your teen says. Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live; talking about feeling trapped; being in unbearable pain or feeling isolated; and talking about being a burden to others are all signs a teen may be thinking about suicide.
In addition, the following behaviors are suicide warning signs: acting anxious or agitated; sleeping too little or too much; behaving recklessly; increasing use of drugs or alcohol; withdrawing from friends, family or activities; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and having extreme mood swings. These signs may mean a teen is at risk for suicide. The risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.