Adult mental health awareness and removing the stigma around adults getting help is regularly discussed. But the fact that children and teens also struggle with mental health is often not as commonly discussed. This disparity in awareness may be because it’s often more difficult to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in kids, and they may feel they can’t vocalize their struggles or be unsure how to properly communicate about their mental health. In fact, youth suicide has been dubbed a “Silent Epidemic.”
According to The Jason Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs, the risk of suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 12-18. About 80% of adolescents that consider suicide portray signs through either their words or their actions.
As an adult in a child’s life, it’s important to be a support system, help them handle difficult situations, and talk out the feelings they experience. Raising awareness and providing education about the signs of mental health issues — as well as how to take action — are the first steps to help minimize the risk of suicide in adolescents.
Social media, home life, school, and community environments all play a role in the behavior, moods, and mental health of children and teens. Situations like bullying, depression, substance abuse, and major changes at home (for example, family death or divorce) are common risk factors in kids and teens. But societal pressures should also be taken into consideration. Gender roles, conforming ideals, and feeling a lack of belonging or not fitting in anywhere are additional factors that can contribute to suicide if a child is having difficulty with their mental health.
If you think a child or teen in your life might be struggling with their mental health, there are a few behaviors that should be noted as serious signs you should get involved, including:
- Suicide Threats: These are not to be ignored in any sort of circumstance. All threats should be taken seriously to help understand the underlying cause and factors. Remember, there might be words used such as “I would be better off dead” or “You’ll be better off without me,” so they might not always be direct in their threat.
- Depression: About 10% of kids suffer from mental illness, but only 20% of them receive actual treatment. Warning signs to look for include abrupt changes in personality, a disinterest in activities they used to love, failing classes, withdrawal from friends and family, and changing in eating habits.
- Sudden interest with death or suicide: Art, social media posts, TV shows, or YouTube videos that talk about death or dying might be more prevalent.
- Making final arrangements: Giving away their favorite things, saying “goodbye” to family and friends, expressing their love out of nowhere, and making real funeral arrangements.
Resources for Parents and Other Adults
Below is a list of tools and articles that are beneficial in further identifying signs and supporting children in your life who might be mentally struggling. Above all, it’s incredibly important to provide an open line of communication for kids and teens, as well as to offer a safe environment to grow, learn, and manage what they’re going through.
- This downloadable guide from the American Psychological Association answers questions and addresses common myths, discusses signs of suicidal feelings in children and what to do, plus how schools and communities work together to prevent suicide.
- The Jason Foundation is a great resource for additional risk factors and warning signs of suicide. It was created to establish a “Triangle of Prevention” between students, parents, and teachers or coaches to assist in getting adolescents the help they need.
- The Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health offers ton of articles about helping teens manage anxiety and fluctuating moods, and how to approach teens with substance abuse. With social media being a major risk factor for mental health issues and suicide, there is also an article about parenting in the world of social media.
- Sometimes it might be hard for teens to speak to an adult about their feelings or that they’re struggling. The app Your Life Your Voice is a great way for teens to journal their mood, track any triggers they might have, and speak to a counselor through phone calls or text.
No one ever has to be alone when battling with their mental health. It’s okay to ask for help and step in when you notice someone might be struggling. If you think a child or teen might need immediate assistance or is hesitant to speak with an adult they know, you can call The National Suicide Hotline at 1.800.273.8255 (1.800.273.TALK) or Boys Town National Hotline at 1.800.448.3000 — both offer free, confidential help 24/7.