Protective Factors That May Reduce Teen Suicide

My last post referred to Dr. Erlanger Turner and his article with help for parents and caregivers to understand some indicators of suicide risk. Dr. Turner also references some valuable research reports and resources for suicide prevention and intervention. While it is important to know the signs and predictors of teen suicide, we should also be clear on how to formulate the next steps strategies to help teenagers encountering this significant issue. That said, let’s look at the protective factors that may help reduce the risk of teen suicide.

 Do you know how to help a teen who is considering suicide?

Threat of teen suicide
Take all threats of suicide seriously and tell the person you are concerned about him

The protective factors of suicide need to be in place whenever we suspect a teen of wanting to commit suicide. Generally protective factors for suicide include the ability to receive effective mental health care; engage in positive connections to family, peers, community, and social institutions such as marriage and religion that foster resilience; and learn the skills and ability to solve problems.

Protective factors may reduce suicide risk by helping teenagers cope with negative life events, even when those events continue over a period of time. The ability to cope or solve problems reduces the chance that a person will become overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious. Protective factors do not entirely remove risk, however, especially when there is a personal or family history of depression or other mental disorders.

What to do when you suspect someone may be at risk for suicide 
1. Take it Seriously
– 50% to 75% of all people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intention.
– If someone you know shows the warning signs, the time to act is now.

2. Ask questions
– Begin by telling the suicidal person you are concerned about them.
– Tell them specifically what they have said or done that makes you feel concerned about suicide.
– Don’t be afraid to ask whether the person is considering suicide, and whether they have a particular plan or method in mind. These questions will not push them toward suicide if they were not considering it.
– Ask if they are seeing a clinician or are taking medication so the treating person can be contacted

3. Do not try to argue someone out of suicide.
– Instead, let them know that you care, that they are not alone and that they can get help.
– Avoid pleading and preaching to them with statements such as, “You have so much to live for,” or “Your suicide will hurt your family.”

4. Encourage professional help
– Actively encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.
– People considering suicide often believe they cannot be helped. If you can, assist them to identify a professional and schedule an appointment. If they will let you, go to the appointment with them.

5. Take action
– If the person is threatening, talking about, or making specific plans for suicide, this is a crisis requiring immediate attention. Do not leave the person alone.
– Remove any firearms, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used for suicide from the area.
– Take the person to a walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital or a hospital emergency room.
– If these options are not available, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for assistance.

6. Follow-up on treatment
– Still skeptical that they can be helped, the suicidal person may need your support to continue with treatment after the first session.
– If medication is prescribed, support the person to take it exactly as prescribed. Be aware of possible side effects, and notify the person who prescribed the medicine if the suicidal person seems to be getting worse, or resists taking the medicine. The doctor can often adjust the medications or dosage to work better for them.
Help the person understand that it may take time and persistence to find the right medication and the right therapist.
– Offer your encouragement and support throughout the process, until the suicidal crisis has passed.

This is a beginning.

These steps can be taken as an intervention by any caregiver or individual who is concerned about a child, teenager or perhaps another adult. It is most important to be proactive and even aggressive when you hear the possibility of suicide. This tragedy has become far too prevalent in our teenage community. It is so unnecessary for tragedy to occur when steps like these can prevent the loss of life and protect our teenagers and families.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


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