We need to talk about suicide if we hope to prevent It

Suicide. Many people don’t even want to say the word. They are worried that if they verbalize it, they might put the idea in someone’s head. However, if you are willing to talk about it, rather than causing harm, you might just save someone’s life.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2017), suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens, as well as all individuals ages 10 to 34. While suicide in younger children is rare, it can happen, and it is important to note that suicide rates do increase across development in youth. In fact, the Youth Risk Behaviors Survey (2017) found that 7.4% of high school students said that they made at least one suicide attempt in the past year. These statistics show just how serious of a problem suicide is for today’s youth.

So how might you know that someone needs help? There are warning signs for suicidality, which can include (but are not limited to) someone stating that they want to die or do not wish to live anymore, being more withdrawn, having feelings of hopelessness, and/or a change in sleeping patterns. Having been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition (like depression or drug abuse), a family history of suicide or psychiatric conditions, and exposure to suicide can also place individuals at higher risk for suicide.

If you notice warning signs in someone you love, or even if you’re just concerned, you can help. First, even though it might seem uncomfortable, talk about it. Ask if they’ve had thoughts about suicide or hurting themselves in any way, or if they have ever done anything to hurt themselves or prepare for suicide in the past. Ask if their friends have had such thoughts. Ask who they would talk to if they have a problem or need to talk (whether at home or at school). Regardless of what is said, please take it seriously. Listen. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter what.

If a child or teen is in immediate danger, or you are worried about their safety, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room to maintain safety. Trained professionals can help determine the level of intervention necessary for your loved one. Once safety is ensured, seek mental health treatment. A team of licensed mental health professionals (which may include psychologists, therapists, social workers, and/or psychiatrists) can help to treat underlying psychiatric conditions through therapy, medication management, or a combination of the two. Handling mental health concerns is not something that you (or your child or loved one) has to do alone.

There are crisis contacts available 24/7 for individuals to use if they need help, but do not feel comfortable talking to someone they know.


Share these resources with your loved ones. Put the numbers on the refrigerator or on a post-it note in their room. Encourage your loved ones to store them in their phones, just in case one day they (or their friends) need them. Remind them that they can always talk to you, too. And when they do, listen. Let them know that you care, and they are not alone. Let them know there are people who can help, and that there is hope.

For more information about suicide prevention, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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Article by:

Kristie Schultz, Ph.D.

Dr. Kristie Vail Schultz is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialty training in pediatric psychology. She is an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine with dual appointment in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology and the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology. She is currently the acting director of Integrated Behavioral Health Services for the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center and also sees patients at the UofL Physicians - Bingham Clinic. Dr. Schultz earned her bachelors’ degrees from Tulane University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Mississippi. She completed her internship and fellowship in pediatric psychology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Dr. Schultz’s areas of clinical interest include adolescent mental health and chronic illness coping in youth.

All posts by Kristie Schultz, Ph.D.
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