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8 Steps to Take After a Teen Suicide Attempt

Suicide Attempts are Shockingly Common

After a teen suicide attempt, your family may be left struggling with a wide range of emotions. Although families often feel alone dealing with this mental health issue, the unfortunate truth is that suicidal thoughts are fairly common among teens.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a national survey revealed that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. Of the survey’s responding teens:

  • 16% reported having had serious thoughts of suicide in the past.
  • 13% had created a plan for suicide.
  • 8% revealed that they had made an attempt in the past year.

While the reasons often vary among teens regarding their desire to end their life, you can take these steps to help your teen recover mentally and physically from a suicide attempt.

STEP 1: Seek Medical Treatment for Physical Wounds

Your first priority is to make sure that your child is safe from any further physical harm. Depending upon the circumstances, your child may have been rushed to the emergency room, or you may have found out about the attempt before serious physical harm was done. Either way, you need to have your child medically assessed to make sure that there is not lingering damage. Once you know that your child’s physical health is stable, you can then begin to focus on healing their emotional trauma.

STEP 2: Focus On Providing Positive Support

Your emotional reactions may include a sense of anger at your teen for putting you in this situation. Alternatively, you may feel as though you should have noticed sooner or done something more to stop it from happening. While these emotional responses are normal, it is more important to focus on helping your teen recover.

Seek professional therapy for yourself to deal with any challenging emotions so that you can give your teen support.

Although it is difficult during this time, refrain from negative talk such as blaming your teen for the suicide attempt. Instead, let them know that you are there to help them and will continue to support them as they work on dealing with the underlying reasons for their suicide attempt.

STEP 3: Address the Underlying Symptoms and Causes

People often view the teen years as a time of innocence and happiness. However, teens are often grappling with many of the same stresses that face adults, yet they have fewer tools or life experience to handle them correctly. For instance, teens often describe feeling stressed out by school and work responsibilities. Teenagers can also experience depression and anxiety just like adults. In some cases, fluctuating hormones can cause teens to feel depressed or unable to cope with life.

Once your teen is ready to be released from their medical treatment, your next focus is to help them find mental health treatment services that address the underlying reasons for their suicidal ideation. Professional counseling and therapeutic services help your child begin to heal the true reasons behind their suicide attempt.

STEP 4: Be Involved In Their Treatment

Families play an important role in teen mental health treatment. During your teen’s time at their treatment center, your involvement in family therapy sessions helps you work together to learn more about how to address suicide ideation. You can also expect to be involved in discharge planning services that include learning how to monitor your child’s mental health so that you can implement coping strategies that they learned during their treatment.

STEP 5: Create a Safe Home Environment

After a suicide attempt, your teen is at risk for trying again. While your teen’s mental health treatment helps to prevent this from happening, you may need to take additional steps to protect your teen as they continue their recovery at home. For instance, you need to remove potentially life threatening weapons and materials from the home.

Additionally, parents often need to implement a medication management plan that includes dispensing a single dose at a time to teen patients while keeping other medication in a location that is inaccessible to the child. Keep in mind that these strategies do not prevent all suicide attempts, but they do minimize the possibility of it happening in the home.

STEP 6: Choose What to Tell Others

Although no one should be ashamed of seeking help for mental health issues, there is still some stigma associated with suicide. During their treatment, your child is protected under confidentiality laws that give you control over who knows about the mental health services that your teen receives.

While you may tell trusted family members and friends about what happened so that they can provide support, your teen may prefer that discretion is practiced when talking to people from their school or neighborhood. Discuss what you prefer to say to others as a family so that your teen feels comfortable when they are ready to go back to their normal activities.

STEP 7: Support Their Transition Back Home

During your teen’s treatment, they will work with their counselors to develop strategies that help them continue to rebuild their mental health after they return home. However, the transition back to their normal activities is often stressful.

Help your child create a plan to address challenges that arise during their transition back to their normal activities. For example, your teen may need to continue outpatient therapy that involves counseling after school, or you may need to plan for them to have time to meditate or practice breathing exercises in the evening to relieve stress.

STEP 8: Continue to Monitor for Future Suicide Risk Factors

With time, family support and professional treatment, most teens are able to learn how to properly handle thoughts of suicide along with any co-occurring mental health disorders. Yet, you still need to continue to monitor your teen for times when they may be at risk for another attempt. Know the warning signs of suicide and act immediately.

For instance, teens are more likely to attempt suicide if they are bullied or experience a major loss such as during the breakup of a romantic relationship. If you notice that your teen is at risk for a relapse, then help them seek treatment to prevent a secondary suicide attempt.

Conclusion

Finding the right types of support is essential for your teen’s health after a suicide attempt. Once you know that they are physically stable, begin the process of arranging for professional treatment so that they can recover emotionally and look forward to living a long and happy life.

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About Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.