Tips to Help Against Youth Suicide and Depression

The recent tragedy surrounding the attempted suicide in Walpole NH reminds us all that the danger of youth suicide remains active in our own backyard.  Drawing upon the recently blogged Vermont Youth Suicide Prevention Platform and the new website , it is worth thinking again about some suggestions for parents and primary care clinicians. 

Tips for Parents

  • Just ask about it.  This sounds simple, but many youth will tell you how they feel if they feel the question is coming from genuine concern.
  • Know the warning signs that indicate the possibility of a child that is seriously depressed and may be contemplating suicide
  • Know some of the triggers that can cause depressed youth to act upon their thoughts.  Relationship problems, bullying, and substance use can all increase the risk.
  • Offer hope.  While expressions like “cheer up” or “smile” can be counterproductive, it can be useful to help your child see that they can get through this difficult time and are loved by many people around them.
  • Encourage your child and adolescent in health promotion activities that improve mood.  Offer to do some of these things with them.
  • Encourage your child to speak to a responsible adult if they have any concern that a friend or peer may be thinking of suicide.  It could literally save their life.
  • If concerned about your child’s safety, take steps to make lethal means of suicide unavailable.
  • Do not leave acutely suicidal individuals alone.
  • Seek professional help if you have any concerns about depression or suicide.

 Tips for Primary Care Clinicians (other than above)

  • Take a moment and contemplate your own personal thoughts about depression and suicide and how those attitudes may be influencing your clinical practice.
  • Take stock of what mental health resources are available to you now.
  • Work with the reality that child psychiatrists and many good evidence-based psychotherapists are in very short supply around here.  A “refer and check-in” strategy may result in a long delay of further action, and you may want to consider additional assessment and interim treatment plans.   
  • Check-in with how parents and other family members are doing.  Sometimes the intensity of a suicidal youth causes other important family issues to be neglected.
  • Strive to be as knowledgeable and comfortable about pediatric depression as possible (in addition to the million other things you are expected to know well).
  • Be an advocate to help Vermonters get the help and resources they need.

 The suffering of pediatric depression can often be alleviated and many youth suicides can be prevented with a coordinated and comprehensive approach.

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