Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44 and with 75% of mental illness starting before the age of 24, it’s crucial that parents know what to look for if your child is feeling vulnerable, and possibly suicidal.
Parents often unintentionally miss the warning signs that something is wrong with their teenager as it can be difficult to differentiate normal behaviour from the warning signs of a teen not coping.
The three main warning signs parents should look out for are:
- Any change in what is considered ‘normal’ behaviour for your child should be addressed as changing behaviour can indicate a problem.
- Withdrawal from social activities can suggest something is not right. There will be times when a teenager won’t participate in their usual activities however if a parent sees a consistent pattern of isolation from family, friends and activities this should be addressed.
- The mood of your teen is another common warning sign. The teenage years are fraught with highs and lows in emotion and this is normal (in young men, anger is not uncommon and in young women, sadness). However, if you notice your teenager experiencing these emotions frequently, without a shift back to their ‘normal self’, there might be a problem and this should be addressed.
What Can Parents Do?
Psychologist, Davina Donovan, has launched ‘Speak Teen’, a service designed to prevent and treat mental illness in young people. The teen coaching offering provides virtual or face-to-face access to support for youngsters and their parents in a non-medical setting, enabling families to feel more comfortable and open to seeking help when they need it.
“We shouldn’t be treating problems like teen anxiety, depression, gaming addiction, bullying, suicide, low self esteem, drug and alcohol abuse or moodiness, when we can take steps to avoid them altogether”, says Donovan.
Donovan continues: “Too many families are disconnected and increasing numbers of teenagers are running away from home, dying by suicide and getting caught up in unsafe activities, while parents watch on helplessly. It is our mission at Speak Teen to offer a convenient solution to both teenagers and their parents to access help. Many teenagers have a soccer coach and netball coach but a ‘teen coach’ is perhaps the most important.”
A Speak Teen coach equips teenagers and their parents with social, emotional and mental strategies to help them navigate the most challenging years of their lives. Sessions are bespoke to the family involved and techniques may include mindfulness, skill-building, resiliency training and self-esteem building. Evidence-based techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and interpersonal therapy are also used to help parents and teenagers reconnect and move forward.
Teens Are Not Talking To Their Parents
Donovan says, “Teenagers are telling Speak Teen coaches things that they’re not telling their parents and it’s not secrets about parties or risky behaviour, rather insights about their homes and relationships that many parents are often surprised to hear”:
- They feel lonely even when around friends and family
- They feel invisible
- Don’t feel good enough despite parents saying positive things
What advice would you give parents with children who may have suicidal tendencies? Tell us in the comments below.