You may not be surprised to know that youth suicide is on the rise. Tragically, it’s likely that you’ve heard about this through news coverage or know of teens in your community who have died by suicide.
A 2017 study found that 7.4% of high school students (grades 9-12) had attempted suicide at least once in the last year. Mental health professionals don’t know precisely why there’s been an increase. But statistics and facts don’t matter when the reality of suicide hits home for your teen. All that matters is that they’ve lost a friend.
1. Help Them Know They Are Not Alone
Sudden losses are hard for anyone. The enormity of losing a friend to suicide brings with it all the force and blows of any death and its accompanying grief. Your teen might be experiencing the entire range of grief emotions. Deep anger, disbelief, shock, numbness, survivor’s guilt, and overwhelming sorrow will be some of these. Many teens will feel an incredible sense of being all alone in this pain.
It’s your job to help them know they’re not alone. Let them express their feelings openly. Let them know that you hear them. You don’t have to sit down for deep, one-on-one conversations. Let it happen naturally. Many teens also benefit from talking about the loss with their peers. If their school offers resources and support groups following a suicide, connect your teen with those as well.
2. Respect Their Individual Needs
As a parent, you know it’s vital for your teen to know you’re there for them and willing to help in any way you can. But everyone handles grief differently. Your teen may not want to talk about it with you. If that’s the case, don’t push yourself on them. Respect their need for time alone. They may want to lean more on their friends for emotional support than on you.
Your teen may need more sleep or a break from outside activities. Support them in quiet ways, such as preparing favorite meals, doing their chores for them, or planning other small, meaningful gestures. They may try to push you away or ignore your gestures, but try not to be offended. Such responses are not about you, but about their level of emotional pain.
Of course, it’s still crucial to monitor your teen’s emotional state. If their grief seems to spiral into a deep depression from which they can’t escape, reach out for help. (I cover this topic more below.)
3. Talk About Suicide
Suicide is often the elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore. As a parent, you may want to avoid talking about it because one of your deepest fears is that your own teen might attempt suicide. The topic is so painful that trying to broach it takes your breath away.
Death by suicide can easily be more confusing and more upsetting than other causes of death. It may seem that there was no warning. There’s no chance to say goodbye. The fact that one of their friends would choose to end their life can be entirely bewildering.
But in addition to letting your teen know they’re not alone, it’s also important to discuss the actual topic of suicide. Help them process their relationship with their friend. Talk about their deceased friend in a positive way, but also emphasize the importance of finding help if your teen feels suicidal. Make sure your teen knows that they are in no way responsible for their friend’s decision to end their life.
As we’ve discussed, there are many essential steps you can take to support your teen after losing a friend by suicide. It’s crucial to pay attention to how your teen is doing. If they continue to struggle despite taking such steps, consider reaching out to a professional therapist.
Grief is a heavy burden to bear, especially for youth and adolescents who haven’t experienced it before. A therapist can help them process their grief more fully if needed. Therapy can help them improve their emotional coping skills, both now and for their future. Please reach out to my office today if you believe your teen needs additional help here https://www.new-perspective-counseling.com/contact/