Every parent would like to think that suicide is not relevant to them, their family or friends. After hearing about the recent death of a teenage girl in the local area who I used to teach, I was reminded about the significance of this issue for young people as they navigate their adolescent years.
For instance Australian studies have found that between 23.5% and 49% of teenagers have thoughts of suicide at some time http://www.rch.org.au/cah/research/Youth_Suicide_in_Australia/. For more stats and figures see the end of this article.
(NB This article is not to raise alarm or be over the top about this issue, but it’s important to think about in the context of helping young people navigate their own teenage years and being aware of those around them).
Statistically it is more likely for an adolescent to die from suicide than from a car accident or a drug and alcohol related incident. While the statistics can be a cause for alarm, at the same time the period of adolescence is one of exploring life and meaning, including the concept of death. Thinking about the concept of suicide is different to thinking about, planning and carrying out the act of suicide. Many young people will naturally think about it in a superficial way because it is an interesting human phenomenon, yet some will think about it in a way that is much more serious and a cause for alarm. I guess the unfortunate truth is that no-one is immune from it, and it can happen to ANY family.
So what does this mean for us as parents? We’ll talk to our kids about road and car safety, being responsible with alcohol, or the dangers of drugs, so why wouldn’t we discuss something like suicide. It’s probably one of those conversations that doesn’t need to happen until they hit the teenage years as that’s when this topic can begin to appear on their radar. It will be an occasional theme in music or movies, they may hear about it at school, or it may happen to someone they know. The changes that occur in their body over that time period particularly their hormones will bring complexity to the way they think about life, the universe, relationships, and how to deal with it all.
When approaching the subject think about the following framework (an extension from our previous article)
- Why are you talking to them about it? Has something happened recently to someone in their life or community, or is it an “I care about you and I’m interested in what you think” conversation?
- Timing – car rides can be good, as they tend to be private with few distractions.
- Prepare how you’re going to approach the topic.
- Be honest about it being a difficult or unexpected topic to be talking about.
- Ask your child what they think?
- Listen to what they have to say.
- Don’t overreact or be dismissive of their questions or experience.
Remember, talking about suicide will not plant the idea in someone’s head, but it will open up the lines of communication for future conversation about a topic that is often kept secret. The best way to bring secrets out into the open is to expose them to the light of open and honest conversation. This also gives your child permission to bring up the subject in the future.
If you or your family has been impacted by suicide more directly and need to talk to your kids about it here is a resource you might find helpful: http://childpsychmom.com/talking-to-your-kids-about-suicide/
Some stats and research:
Suicide is rare in childhood (<14 years) but becomes much more common during adolescence. The rise in suicide is most rapid between the ages of 15 to 19 years but there is a further increase between the age of 20 to 24 years.
The suicide rate for young people aged 15–24 years increased with remoteness, with the age-standardised rate in Remote/Very Remote areas being more than 3 times that for Major Cities in 2003?2005 (31 compared with 9 per 100,000 young people). http://www.livingisforeveryone.com.au/Youth.html
In 2013, 348 young people aged 15 to 24 years died by suicide – more than any other cause, including road accidents, cancer, and assault. Concerningly, the new data shows an upward trend in the rate of suicide among young people aged 15–19, and the overall rate of suicide among young people aged 20–24 remains stubbornly stable.
Nearly three times as many young men died by suicide than young women, with young men aged 20–24 exhibiting the highest rate of suicide among all young people aged 15–24. The previously observed upward trend in the overall rate of suicide by young women aged 15–19 remained high but reduced year-on-year. http://about.au.reachout.com/youth-suicide-2015/