Talk to your teen about anxiety, suicide

Working in the mental health field over the last five years, I have had many conversations with parents about depressed, anxious and suicidal teens. One common theme I hear is the difficulty some parents have discussing mental health with their children.

Talking with teens can be a challenge. It can feel like walking on eggshells having a depressed or anxious teen in the home. It can come with threats, guilt, broken property, impaired relationships and many more hostilities. It often comes with sleepless nights and constant worry.

Parents ask, “Should I approach my kids and ask how they are doing or will it only make them mad?” Most experts recommend that you communicate with your children on depression, anxiety and suicide. It might just save their life.

One in five teens has had thoughts of suicide and one in 10 has made an attempt. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 12-19 year olds in the United States and the second leading cause of death for teens in Wisconsin. There are more teen deaths from suicide than there are from cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of deaths from suicide is nearly double the number of deaths from cancer.

Many teens protest, telling parents, “If you call someone to help it will only make things worse.” MAKE THE CALL! What would you do if you thought your child may have cancer? Would you leave it up to your child to decide to receive treatment?

In Sheboygan County, you can call Mobile Crisis at 920-459-3151to talk with a trained crisis intervention professional via phone or in person. The service is free and confidential.

Just because someone has thoughts of suicide does not mean they need to be hospitalized. They do, however, need to be assessed by a counselor or therapist and be heard and supported.

Some parents worry, “If I talk to my child about suicide will it plant the seed in their mind?” According to the “Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide,” talking to your child about depression, anxiety and suicide will open up communication on a topic often kept a secret. They stated it will not, however, plant the thought of suicide in their mind.

Be open-minded and avoid judgment. Thoughts of suicide are a common reaction to life stressors. The person suffering from depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts recovers best when given emotional support and understanding.

Even if your child has never exhibited signs or symptoms of a mental health-related issue, it’s still a good idea to discuss the topic of suicide with them. Many teens are good at wearing masks and hiding their true emotions. Starting this dialogue now also allows your child to know it is safe to talk with you in the future if they do have thoughts of self harm or other worrisome life events.

Mental health affects us all every day. We want you to enjoy good mental health and live well.

---Jonathan Tyler is a mental health therapist for Aurora Healthcare, board member for Mental Health America, and member of HSC2020 Mental Health Committee. He can be reached at 920-451-5578.