Such distress in children and going people can manifest in lots of different ways in terms of behaviour, emotions, and impact on relationships and functioning at school, home, and workplaces (where relevant).
What to look out for - warning signs:
- Hopelessness: If a child or young person feels trapped in their circumstances, and as if there is no hope for the future, it can lead to them feeling sad, to having depression, or to think about suicide.
- Suicidal ideation: Thoughts of taking one’s own life are relatively common amongst teens, but should ALWAYS be taken seriously.
- Changes in behaviour: When a child or adolescent experiences significant changes to their eating or sleeping patterns, mood, concentration, or ability to participate at school or home, these signs should be taken heed of.
- Withdrawing socially
- Giving away valued possessions
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Disturbing or emotional posts on social media.
- Acquiring medications or weapons
- Talking about death or suicide
What can you do?
Talk and listen to your teen:
The expert on how your young person is feeling is your young person themselves. Check in with them often about how they’re travelling and let them know you’re always there for them, even if they don’t want to chat.
Check in on yourself
It’s natural to feel frightened, overwhelmed, or even angry if your teen lets you know they’ve been thinking of harming themselves. It’s important to let your child or adolescent know that you love them and support them, and that you need to keep them safe. Try to communicate calmly, without judgement, and try to help them see that it’s safe to talk to you.
Make sure you ask them directly
Parents are often worried that if their teen or child hasn’t had thoughts of suicide, they will be created if asked directly. This is a myth, and research has shown us that asking directly can be very protective. Avoid using euphemisms such asking if they’ve been thinking about “doing something silly” to themselves. Rather use direct, non-judgemental language. Simple is best: “Have you had thoughts about hurting yourself, or taking your own life?” should be a question we are all comfortable asking our loved ones.
Plan with your child for their safety
If your child or adolescent does let you know that they are having thoughts of harming themselves, make sure you’re prepared to engage in some safety planning. Ask them whether they have a plan to hurt themselves, and ask them to work with you as a team to help keep them safe. This might mean removing access to means, helping them manage their social media time, increasing their connection with supportive family and friends, and seeking professional help.
Be prepared to contact services
In a crisis where a young person has, or is just about to harm themselves, it is best to present to your hospital's emergency department - via ambulance if necessary. In situations of less urgency, where future potential risk is identified by you, you can gain assistance from your own General Practitioner, the local hospital Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and sometimes from school counsellors, if they are available.
Where to go for help:
Kids Helpline is a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. They can be contacted by phone on 1800 55 1800 or website: https://kidshelpline.com.au/get-help/webchat-counselling/
Lifeline provides free, 24-hour Telephone Crisis Support service in Australia. Volunteer Crisis Supporters provide suicide prevention services, mental health support and emotional assistance, via telephone, online, and face-to-face. Call 13 11 44 or visit their website: https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us
Area Mental Health Services (AMHS) triage provides mental health information, advice and referral. Each AMHS has a centralised triage number. www.health.vic.gov.au/mentalhealth/services
ARAFEMI Carer Helpline provides free, confidential information, support and referral for family, carers and friends of people with a mental illness. 1300 550 265, 9am to 5pm weekdays www.arafemi.org.au/family-support/telephone-helpline.html
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement provides a range of education, counselling, research and clinical services for those working in and affected by experiences of grief and bereavement. 1800 642 066. www.grief.org.au
Beyondblue provides information about the signs and symptoms of depression, available treatments, how to get help and links to other relevant services and support groups. 1300 22 4636, 24 hours/7 days. www.beyondblue.org.au
Tamsyn White is the Principal Psychologist at Hopscotch & Harmony. She sees children, young people, adults, and families when challenges have presented themselves and feel overwhelming. Tamsyn has a strong working history with psychological trauma for people across their lifespan. Tamsyn loves working with people when they want to develop their skills in areas such as: loving and accepting themselves; being a fantastic parent; being a skilled communicator in their relationships; just as some examples.