by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care
Of all the difficult or uncomfortable conversations parents need to have with their children before they’re grown, one of the most challenging subjects to broach could suicide. But silence can kill, making it absolutely vital that parents summon the nerve to open communication on this topic.
Suicide among children and teens has been on the rise for the past two decades. After a decline in the rate in 2019, numbers rose again during the pandemic. About 6,500 individuals between the ages of 10 to 24 die by suicide each year, making it one of the leading causes of death for individuals in that age range. It is thought that roughly 20 percent of American high school students have seriously considered suicide.
Within that age range, minorities and marginalized populations tend to have higher-than-average rates of suicide, though it can be difficult to accurately assess any specific child’s risk. Often, the victims are kids that one might never suspect – those who could be described as happy, outgoing, and engaged in life. Sometimes the friendly smile is a mask that hides dark thoughts and difficult emotions.
Dr. Amber Popovitz-Gale is a psychologist with Central Florida Health Care. She describes what she sees frequently when dealing with these issues.
“A lot of times, it’s the kids that have given no idea,” she says. “They seem very happy, they’re happy at a party, they’re happy at dinner, they’re laughing and joking, and then they’re gone the next day. They kept everything internal and no one ever got into that – they took everything at face value.”
That’s why communication and education is so important for preventing young people from committing devastating acts of self-harm.
“Even if you feel that everything is good, going smoothly, no issues, life is perfect,” says Popovitz-Gale, “It’s still good to have that conversation and let kids know that we all have struggles.”
She recommends just talking to the young people in your life and asking if they ever have difficulties dealing with their emotions or have thoughts of hurting themselves. Some teens enjoy a darker sense of humor than others, and jokes about suicide can be uncomfortably common. Even so, it can still be beneficial to check in with kids and inquire if there is anything behind such humor that they may want to talk about. Conversations like these can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and reaching out for treatment.
“A lot of times, self-deprecating jokes have some truth behind them,” Popovitz-Gale suggests. “Even if you do think it’s a joke, stop and ask if there’s anything underneath that.”
Another thing that can be concerning for parents is the prevalence of dangerous viral trends that encourage kids to partake in potentially harmful activities. Although most teens don’t take these types of videos too seriously, Popovitz-Gale recommends keeping an eye on those children who are particularly easily influenced by others.
She also reminds people that the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available for people to call even if they are not actively in a suicidal state. It can be accessed any time an individual is feeling emotionally distressed or if a person is concerned about someone else who may be contemplating suicide. The number for the Lifeline is 9-8-8. The call is toll-free, and also has text and chat options available for those who prefer that form of communication.