In the U.S. alone, suicide claims more than 4,000 lives every year. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24. But there are other risks of teenagers in crisis besides suicide, as Americans have witnessed in the number of recent school shootings. For these reasons, it is more important than ever to learn to recognize the signs of a teen in distress and seek help immediately.

Signs a teen needs treatment

While the reasons for suicide may often be complex, most teens exhibit warning signs before they act. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), your teen could be in danger if he or she:

  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Exhibits drastic changes in behavior
  • Withdraws from friends or social activities
  • Loses interest in school, work or hobbies
  • Prepares for death by writing a will or making final arrangements
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Has attempted suicide before
  • Takes unnecessary risks
  • Has recently experienced serious losses
  • Seems preoccupied with death and dying
  • Loses interest in his or her personal appearance
  • Increases alcohol or drug use
  • Talks about committing suicide

Talk to your teen at the first sign

If you start to notice mild signs of depression or changes in behavior, it’s good to start having conversations about the changes. The first question to ask is if they are having suicidal thoughts. They may not answer honestly, and it may be uncomfortable to ask, but if they are able to voice these thoughts, it could be much easier to help them. It’s also important to let them know you have seen the changes in their mood or actions, and talk about your own struggles. Feeling alone is a serious problem, and if they are made to feel like their problems are shared, it can help them cope. Keep the lines of communication open, even if they don’t seem receptive to it at first. And find a good teen counselor as quickly as possible, even if you don’t consider them to be in immediate danger.

Clinical treatment

If your teen refuses to talk, becomes belligerent or in general tend to exhibit any combination of the warning signs, it is crucial that you get them help immediately. Psychiatric facilities are available for emergency assessments 24 hours a day, and there are various types of mental health care providers, such as those associated with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While it’s important to remember that suicide is not always a result of a mental disorder, mental illnesses such as manic depression, substance addiction and schizophrenia are known causes of suicide. If you do not have a psychiatric hospital close by, take them to a local emergency room. They can assess and have them transported if necessary.

For teens in serious or chronic distress, often residential programs for troubled teens are the answer. They can provide around-the-clock care and targeted evaluations and treatment programs, keeping your teen safe while they are there. These facilities also offer outpatient care when needed. Usually teens will be required to keep seeing a mental health professional after they are released from residential care, or they may even be prescribed outpatient care from the beginning. Never hesitate to make the call. A professional will be able to decide on the best course of action.

The teen years can be difficult years for a lot of people, but never dismiss unusual behavior or signs as something that will pass. Keep the lines of communication open, observe their behaviors, and seek help as soon as you sense something is not right. If the teen you are concerned about is not your child, you should immediately inform his or her parents, the school counselor, or another trusted person who can help them seek the help they need.

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