In the silent corridors of a teenager’s mind, where shadows can often loom larger than life, addressing the delicate and pressing issue of suicide ideation demands not just attention but a compassionate and informed approach. It calls upon each individual in a young person’s life—be it a parent, educator, friend, or community member—to play a pivotal role in creating an atmosphere of unwavering support. Below, we will discuss the subtle signs of suicide ideation but also to guide you through tangible, actionable steps in providing the crucial support these teens often desperately need. As we step into the shadows, let us discover how to bring light into the lives of those sitting in the dark, navigating the intricate journey of adolescence.
Signs of Suicide Ideation in Teens:
Stay attuned to abrupt and significant shifts in behavior. This could manifest as social withdrawal, a decline in academic performance, or heightened irritability.
Expressing Feelings of Worthlessness
Teens experiencing suicide ideation may express feelings of deep worthlessness or inadequacy, believing that they are a burden to others.
Loss of Interest in Hobbies
A sudden loss of interest in activities and hobbies that were once enjoyable may be a sign of emotional distress.
Social Media Clues
Pay attention to social media posts or messages that hint at feelings of hopelessness, despair, or isolation. Teens may use these platforms as an outlet for expressing their struggles.
Teens contemplating suicide may engage in self-harming behaviors, such as cutting or burning, as a way to cope with emotional pain.
Providing Support to Teens:
Time Off School (With a Return Date)
Recognizing the strain that school environments can sometimes exacerbate, consider discussing the possibility of taking some time off. Establish a concrete return-to-school date to provide a sense of structure and reassurance.
Sharing News with the School
Communication is key. When a teen is undergoing a challenging time, consider sharing the news with the school administration, teachers, and relevant staff members. This can pave the way for a collaborative effort in creating a supportive environment.
While at school
Acknowledge the importance of breaks during the school day. These pauses can be essential for teens to gather their thoughts, manage stress, and prevent feelings of overwhelm. Collaborate with school staff to establish a system that allows for strategic breaks without causing academic detriment.
The 2-Point Rating Scale – Samantha Pekh:
The heart of effective Check-in for Intervention lies in a simple yet effective 2-Point Rating Scale developed by Samantha Pekh, M.A., Registered Psychologist. Using this scale, parents or supportive loved ones can regularly send a text message to their teens, asking them to rate their current level of (emotional) pain and then current level of risk (of suicide) out of 10. For example, a rating of 6.2 might indicate some moderate current thoughts but minimal risk, while a rating of 7.9/10 would suggest moderate to severe ideation and severe risk. Based on the received rating, parents can then tailor their response and intervention accordingly. For lower ratings, it might involve continued open communication, emotional support, and perhaps scheduling a professional counseling session. Higher ratings, especially on the risk factor (the second number of the scale), however, may necessitate more immediate and intensive interventions, such as contacting mental health professionals, crisis hotlines, or seeking emergency services. The 2-point rating scale was developed after hearing from teens that if they texted a high rating if suicidal ideation, loved ones were overreacting when what they really needed loved ones to know was that it was a difficult day, no risk to life or self-harm, but they would need some extra support later on.
Rating of 6.2 = Moderate Thoughts but Minimal Risk
Rating of 7.9/10 = Moderate to Severe Thoughts and Severe Risk.
Both ratings would require different levels of intervention
Encouraging Non Judgmental Responses
This approach encourages teens to be honest about their feelings without fear of negative repercussions, fostering a trusting and supportive relationship.
Not eating is a concerning aspect often linked to mental health struggles. Encourage the incorporation of nutritious alternatives, such as smoothies, to ensure the teen is receiving essential nutrients even during periods of decreased appetite.
Encouraging Creative Outlets
Recognize the therapeutic power of creative expression. Encourage participation in art, music, or writing programs that provide a channel for teens to express their emotions in a constructive and non-verbal manner.
Celebrate Small Wins
Acknowledge and celebrate every small victory. Whether it’s completing an assignment, attending a school event, or simply making it through a challenging day, recognizing these achievements can boost confidence and motivation.
Incorporating these strategies into a support plan can contribute to a multifaceted approach in assisting teens dealing with suicide ideation. Remember, the collective efforts of a supportive community can make a significant difference in the lives of those facing these challenges.
Please view this link for a list of websites with suicide prevention resources for teens
Canada, P. H. A. of. (2022, September 2). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/suicide-prevention/warning-signs.html
Helping children and youth with thoughts of suicide – cheo. (n.d.). https://www.cheo.on.ca/en/resources-and-support/resources/P5012E.pdf