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How Can I Help My Suicidal or Self-Harming Teen?

Having a teen that struggles with their sense of self or worth to the world around them is overwhelming. Oftentimes, suicidal ideation and self-harm can be an unconscious cry for help. Although you may feel helpless as you try and show your teen how worthy they are of this life, there are many steps you can take as a parent to help your teen work through these distressing emotions.

Understanding Self-Destructive Behavior

In order to help your teen, you must have appropriate knowledge of self-destructive behavior and suicide. The main underlying cause of self-destructive behavior, such as physical self-harm, is depression. Acts of self-harm can be a cry for help. They may also be attempts to cope with emotional pain and societal pressures, which are intense during the teenage years. Similarly, substance use can be identified as self-destructive behavior. Many teens may use alcohol and other drugs as an attempt to “escape” or numb distressing emotions. Often, substance use and self-injury alike can be habit-forming, which is why it is critical to address these behaviors as early as possible.

Warning Signs of Self-Harm

The following signs could be an indication that your teen is self-harming:

  • Having unexplained cuts, bruises, or other signs of injury
  • Covering up with clothing that is inappropriate for the weather, such as a long-sleeved shirt in the middle of summer
  • Discovering sharp objects among your teen’s belongings
  • Worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Having friends who are engaging in self-destructive behavior

It is important to understand that many individuals that engage in self-destructive behavior do not experience suicidal ideation. Still, many do, so these warning signs must be taken seriously so your teen can get the help they need.

Risk Factors of Suicide

If your teen has a diagnosis of depression, you may be familiar with the warning signs of suicide. Some general risk factors and associated warning signs include:

  • Prolonged sadness or hopelessness, including verbal statements such as:
    • “Nothing will ever get better.”
    • “What’s the point of living anymore.”
    • “Nothing matters.”
    • “Everyone would be better off without me.”
  • Discrimination or rejection because of sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Easy access to weapons, particularly firearms
  • Suicide in the teen’s peer group

None of these warning signs should ever be dismissed as “teenage angst” or “drama.” Do not be afraid to ask your teen if they have a plan to take their lives; not everyone who is planning suicide keeps it secret. Even if that’s not the case, this issue is important enough to risk being wrong about.

How Can Parents Help Prevent Teen Suicide and Self-Harm?

No parent wants to believe that their child is hurting enough to harm themselves on purpose. But understanding the issues that enable self-harm is critical for healing them heal.

Keep Communication Open

Offering support over judgment is crucial. Feelings of shame can enable your teen’s self-harming behavior. A therapist can help guide you in how to talk to your teen, but you may also want to ask your teen directly how you can help. You may be surprised by how they choose to voice their needs.

Other suggestions to help and encourage your teen include:

  • Letting them know you are always there for them, especially when their emotions seem like too much to handle on their own
  • Helping them develop an action plan for something else to do when the temptation to self-harm occurs, such as talking to you or going for a walk
  • Encouraging regular check-ins where your teen discusses their everyday experiences and feelings, both good and bad
  • Being a good listener and allowing your teen to talk through solutions whenever they are troubled. Try to avoid giving direct advice unless they ask for it
  • Making time in the week to do something fun and relaxing, such as taking a walk, going on a drive, going out to lunch, or even running errands together
  • Acknowledging the hard parts of life while also focusing on the positives; Talking about troubles can be helpful, but dwelling on them is not; Make sure to emphasize the good things about your child’s life, but in such a way that does not diminish their feelings

Seek Professional Help

Self-harm and suicide ideation are issues that cannot be solved alone. In this situation, it’s urgent to seek professional help. If your child has a therapist, make sure they are aware of your concerns. If they don’t already see a therapist, you may want to seek out one who specializes in teen depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

It’s possible that your teen may be hesitant to see a therapist due to an unfortunate stigma that accompanies therapy. However, having an unbiased third party to listen to them and validate their feelings – someone who isn’t mom or dad – can be immensely helpful. Unless your teen discloses a plan to harm themselves or others, everything they say will be kept in confidence.

It can be devastating for parents to learn that their teen is having suicidal ideation or engaging in self-destructive behavior. Clearfork Academy is a male-only teen treatment facility that understands the struggles of self-harm and suicidal ideation. Unfortunately, many of the teens we see for drug abuse started by looking for ways to cope with their depression. This doesn’t have to happen to your child. The good news is that there are many treatment options for depressed teens, from therapies to antidepressants, to learning healthier coping mechanisms. We offer residential treatment programs, various forms of therapy, and outdoor activities to keep treatment lighthearted and exciting. We have helped many teens learn how to make healthier decisions and choose sobriety. To learn more about our treatment program options, call us today at (817) 259-2597 to speak with our knowledgeable and compassionate staff.

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