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Real Talk: Start the conversation about depression and suicide

A mom's perspective

real talk, teens, how do i talk to my teens about depression, how do i talk to my teens about suicide

According to New York State, 13 percent of our children ages 12-17 report being depressed, and suicide is one of the leading causes of their deaths. This is a 32 percent increase in the past decade. It is up to parents to understand the warning signs of depressed and at-risk children to reduce the likelihood of teen suicide. The Psychology Benefits Society explains, "addressing the topic of suicide in a caring, empathetic and nonjudgmental way shows you are taking your child seriously and responding to their emotional pain."

How would I discuss suicide?
I would focus more on why my child was sad, or depressed instead of the actual act of suicide. I would ask questions to understand what she already knows, or believes about suicide to determine the next step of the conversation. It is important to put things in terms a teenager will understand without talking down to them or making them feel like a child.

Suicide in the media
Movies and television have come a long way as a warning of the threat of teen suicide and its contagious nature.

"Heathers" is a 1980s flick featuring Wynonna Rider and Christian Slater where the characters make it appear popular kids at their school were committing suicide when they were actually being murdered. By the end of the movie another character who is genuinely at-risk survives a failed suicide attempt after learning of the other suicides.

The comedic nature of this film comes across less violent and aggressive than Netflix's "13 Reasons Why." Netflix's "13 Reasons Why" is a modern-day story that follows the journey of a teenage girl who commits suicide. I understand the goal of awareness but is a little much for the faint of heart. "Dear Evan Hansen" is a Broadway play also tackling teen suicide.

Warning signs of suicide
Studies show four out of five suicide attempts are preceded by clear warning signs. It is imperative for parents to spend quality time with their teens in order to notice when there are changes in their personality, behaviors, sleep and eating habits. By the time a teen is showing erratic behavior seek professional help, or a local hospital.

Changes in personality include changes in mood, or interest in activities. Changes in behavior include change in social relationships like friends, or significant others. These changes can also be evident in work, or school performance.

READ MORE: Signs of depression

Changes in sleep and eating habits may be subtler, but still occurring. This can include increases, or decreases in either area. Lack of sleep leads to increased irritability, but oversleeping is just as harmful. Overeating leads to weight gain and self-esteem issues, but a child not eating can also be a sign of self-esteem issues. Parents need to have their observations available when they begin a conversation about their concerns so it doesn’t seem like they are overreacting.

Who can parents turn to?
The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide explains how educators play a critical role in identifying the at-risk teen population. It is important to listen to their feedback and not villainize them for criticizing your child. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide has a video called "Not My Kid" that describes how parents are known to deny what is challenging their child because they don’t want to accept, they are not perfect. This is dangerous because it allows the warning signs to go ignored, or unnoticed.

The New York State Department of Health web site also has plenty of resources for parents, students, and educators to help them understand their role in combating teen suicide. Your primary care pediatrician is also a great resource to tap into in order to find a health provider with experience in teen suicide to make sure your teen is receiving the best care possible.

READ MORE: Is your teen harming themselves?

When to start the suicide conversation
There is never a convenient time to start this conversation about suicide. Make sure you are calm and non-accusatory by making sure you check in prior to feeling there is a problem Express your concern for their well-being by focusing on the warning signs previously observed.
The persuasiveness of dangerous social media challenges appears to a new threat to our children.

 Each child is different and may feel sad, or depressed for different reasons, it is up to parents and caregivers to hold loving conversations to help their child understand life is worth living.

Kristina Lasher has her B.S. in Communications with a a focus in culture. She is a married mother of two daughters and two step-daughters.

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