Mental Health

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Mandy Kloppers

How to help a suicidal teenager

I know how hard it is to find help for a suicidal teenager. I put together this guide to help you help your own. Sadly, mental health services are stretched and there just isn’t enough help available for young people (and people in general) suffering from mental health issues.

Help with Distress tolerance

It might fall on deaf ears but say it anyway – “You won’t always feel this low. Things will improve.” When you feel suicidal, the brain is so depleted of the good hormones/chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin and logical thinking goes out of the window. Sleeping on it can help and remind them to take life one day at a time. Suicide can make life seem so bleak, as if there is no hope. It’s vital to remind a suicidal teenager that as bad as it may seem, it’s important to hang in there. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It might seem unbelievable but the sun will come out one day and a different perspective will emerge.

Minimise overthinking

Overthinking is dangerous when a suicidal teenager is in a bad place. Their thoughts will be doom and gloom and they won’t just be able to “snap out of it”. Never ever say those words. Be kind and patient and let them know they are loved.

A suicidal teenager will dwell on what is bad and how awful they feel. When they are in their mind they are in ‘enemy territory’.

Go for walks, get a pet, get in the sun if possible – Vitamin D is good. Do your best to get your teen out. get them to DO SOMETHING. Activity improves the positive hormones in the brain. You may have to literally drag them out (in a nice patient way) but it will do them good to be in nature, even if you walk together in silence.

Don’t trust thoughts when feeling low

When a person is depressed or suicidal, their thoughts aren’t working for them. Thoughts are distorted and depressed people tend to feel worthless and hopeless. They feel they can’t do anything right, can’t see any good in the world around them and just want their despair to end. Let your teen know that their thoughts should not be listened to. I experience depression and when I am low my thinking is dark. I am no good. I am a liability and a waste of space. my thoughts dish up thoughts that lead to my feelings dipping even more. I always tell myself that my thoughts are wrong and that they are distorted. I wait for the normal healthy thoughts to return.

Increase activity!!

Action and distraction

Activity helps a low mood. Pets help too! Go visit a friend with a pet if you don’t own one. Animals are accepting and offer affection. Two amazing things that teenagers need. They live a life where everything seems scary. Fitting in with others, deciding what they want to do with their future, negotiating life at home – especially if parents are insensitive to their teenager’s mental health needs. Social media also adds to a person feeling inadequate and not good enough. Anxiety is growing and young people feel more isolated.

Get your teen out of the house. If this is hard to achieve – ask them about the music they like. Take an interest and find something to talk about. It’s a good idea to distract your teeanger from their anguish. Watch a funny move together. Bake them a cake or even better, try involve them.

Make them a happy play list, do a puzzle with them – these activities are often called “occupational therapy” by the mental health community and they absolutely help a person’s mental health. Be gentle and don’t get angry if your teen doesn’t want to engage. Just keep gently trying.

Get help

Anti-depressants

This can be difficult with services being so stretched. You could also contact your GP. Research has shown that anti-depressants combined with therapy has the best outcome for depression. Be open minded about anti-depressants as they truly can be life-saving for some people.

Sometimes a young person needs a 6 month course to correct the hormonal imbalance. I can’t stress enough that anti-depressants can be a life-saver. The anti-depressants that are usually prescribed initially are: Fluoxetine, Citalopram of Sertraline.

When someone is suicidal and not engaging at all, they might need an anti-depressant to pull them up before taking therapy will be effective.

Normalise the situation

Remind your suicidal teenager that they are not alone and that many young people feel isolated. Some teens feel they are alone and that can deepen their depression. They feel that every one else is having a fabulous life and that they are the only one who isn’t coping. They can ask what’s wrong with them and feel they are a failure. The truth is that depression and feeling suicidal happens to the best of us.

Instill hope as much as possible

Whatever you do, try to keep hope alive. Take life one day at a time and if your teen is very low, keep a close eye on them. In my opinion, keeping your teen feeling that there is hope and that change will come is vital. Distract them, involve them and be gentle. Get to your GP to find out about medication – especially if depression runs in the family.

There is life beyond suicide. Feeling that they belong, having hope and knowing that change will happen is key. Group therapy can also be useful as teens can find a place where they belong and tye can talk without judgment.

Get in touch if you need help with a suicidal teenager. there is help and hope for their futures.

Mandy X

See our mental health resources page for helpines: Mental Health Resources – Thoughts On Life And Love

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash