Advice From the Trenches

Is My Teen Suicidal?: One writer wonders if something deeper is going on with her daughter

Dear C and Dr. B;

My husband thinks I am making too much out of this, but I am worried. My daughter Sophie has been affected by the pandemic like all of us. But now, I am sensing something deeper is going on with her. 

I used to have to tell Sophie to stop talking on Zoom or texting her friends. Now, I have to rouse her from another nap, or tear her away from staring at one of her devices like a zombie. I haven’t heard her talking to her friends in a while, I’m not sure when that stopped.

Initially during the lock down, she was openly upset, which I could deal with. But now she seems to be holding it all in. She’s irritable whenever I ask her a question or try to make pleasant conversation. I haven’t seen her smile in weeks. Now that school is out, and things are opening up more, instead of making plans to go out, she just stays in her room. 

My husband says, “She’s a teenager, Mary, they’re all like that. Leave her alone, she’s fine.” But I’ve read that teen suicides have risen a lot in the last year. When is it time to “interfere?” 

Mary Contrary

Dr. B says: Take this seriously! One of the things that can help prevent suicide is feeling that you are not alone, and the pandemic, for many, has greatly increased our sense of isolation. Another help in suicide prevention is a sense of connection with the future – and current events in our culture have taken that tie to the future away from all of us. In the news, we are barraged with global warming, COVID variants and constant police and/or terrorist killings. There can be a feeling that there is no future. Social media seems to normalize and even encourage suicide. A CDC survey in June 2020 found that one in four teenagers has had suicidal thoughts.

I would look into a day program for Sophie and initiate a counselor as soon as possible. Trust your instincts. As a parent, you know your teen better than anybody else! If it seems that the situation may be serious, seek help. Break a confidence if necessary, in order to save a life.

If you think your child may be suicidal, use the resources below to get free help, 24/7: National Crisis Text Line: Text “ALOHA” to 741741

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-SUICIDE National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

For more info: 

In case of an emergency, call 911.

C says: Please consider this – getting early help is CRUCIAL. I’ve seen what can happen if a teen is taken to a hospital as an ER entry. Hospitals are so overcrowded that a patient can literally spend days in a makeshift “ward” in a hallway, waiting for a bed. And psych wards aren’t a place of constant therapy and meaningful talk. There is always medication, and there are always long hours of staring into space. It is not a good place to try to recover the will to live. So do whatever you can to keep Sophie from reaching a point where hospitalization is necessary in order to prevent her from harming herself.

And remember: No one who is on the verge of suicide is going to be chatty. Teens especially are not easy to help – they will have already expended that option in their own minds. So it is up to you to gently persist in being there for your daughter. If she has closed her door, open it. Do not take any of this personally or get hysterical at her reactions. This isn’t about you.

If you are mistaken, and she is not suicidal, you have still done something important. You have shown her that she can trust you with her life, even when she pushes you away. That in itself can give her second thoughts if ever she is thinking.

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