What To Do When Your Child Expresses Suicidal Thoughts: Tips for Black Parents
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for African American children and adolescents in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Change begins here and we encourage you to take the following warning signs very seriously for early intervention to protect our Black children.
Given the need for early intervention, here are 10 signs to help recognize suicide behaviors. We understand that suicide cannot be prevented with certainty, but we can do all that we can to help reduce the risks if we intervene when we notice these signs in our children.
We must educate ourselves on the risk factors and be attentive. Some children make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret. If you recognize the below warning signs for suicide in children, please intervene immediately before the child self-destructs.
1. Children may subliminally talk about suicide. For example, if your child makes statements such as “I am better off dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born,” do not take the statement lightly. No suicide threat, whether verbal or behavioral, should be ignored or taken as only “acting out.” It is an indicator of a serious problem. Get help for your child. Make sure your child sees a mental health professional if you have any concerns that he or she may be suicidal, or if the child has expressed suicidal thoughts.
2. Extreme sadness or moodiness: If your child experiences long-lasting sadness, frequent mood swings, and unexpected rage, pay close attention and talk with your child so that you can better understand the root of the issue. Children with a deep sense of hopelessness about life may need to see a mental health professional or life coach.
3. Difficulty sleeping: If your child has constant problems with sleeping, this could be a sign of depression and uneasiness. Seeking help is very important to grasp the underlying cause of restlessness and to develop a treatment plan, since suicide risk is commonly associated with having a mental health condition like depression.
4. Changes in personal appearance: A child who is considering suicide might exhibit a change in appearance. If your child suddenly becomes less concerned about his or her personal appearance or you notice a change in attitude, your best recourse is to seek consultation with a licensed mental health provider who specializes in treating children or families. This person’s expertise will help you sort out potential solutions to help keep your child safe.
5. Social anxiety and withdrawal: If your child shows signs of withdrawal or social anxiety, your child may be experiencing depression. Children may choose to be alone and avoid friends or social activities when going through a period of depression. It is important to consult with a mental health provider about the best treatment for your child, which may come in the form of therapy and medication.
6. Self-harmful behavior: Engaging in unsafe sex, over-eating, lack of exercise and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol might indicate that the person no longer values his or her life. If you notice your child expressing thoughts about wanting to die, feeling like they have no reason to live, talking about feeling trapped, or searching for information about suicide methods online, seek professional help immediately.
7. Life crisis or recent trauma: A major life crisis can trigger a suicide attempt. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break-up of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, rejection, or serious financial problems.
8. Choice of music: Pay close attention to your child’s music choice and the lyrics that may be programming their thoughts. Music that encourages and threatens suicide can be a warning sign. Every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
9. Physical or medical issues: For example, becoming pregnant or having a sexually transmitted infection can lead to depression among teenagers. A child may become suicidal after being diagnosed with an STI. Talk to your child about preventative measures and protection. Help them to understand that their life is not over, and there is help so they do not have to face their troubles alone.
10. Bullying or racism: If your child is a victim of bullying or racism, this should not be dismissed as not serious or “just a part of life.” What a young person sees as serious and insurmountable may seem minor to adults.
Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. Together we can raise awareness and reduce the rates of suicide disparities in our community. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone—stay there and call 911.