Signs That Your Child May Be Thinking About Suicide, According To Dr. Sanam Hafeez - Exclusive

Suicide is a leading cause of death for children, teenagers, and young adults ages 10 to 24 (via National Institutes of Mental Health). And while it's often hard to tell if someone is considering suicide, there are some common warning signs. To learn more about this topic, Health Digest spoke with Dr. Sanam Hafeez, an NYC Neuropsychologist and the Director of Comprehend the Mind.

Dr. Hafeez explained that there are many factors that can increase a teenager's risk of trying to end their life. Some of these include teens who "tend to be at higher risk include having a family history of suicide, and being exposed to physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in the home or by close relatives," Dr. Hafeez said. "Guns in the home. Being exposed to one or more parents with serious substance abuse issues. A teen who has a substance abuse issue." Other risk factors include the death of a parent, having a parent or sibling who has attempted suicide, bullying, feeling isolated at school, impulsive traits, and untreated depression.

Other risk factors that can contribute to suicide

There are also many biological risk factors and health conditions that can increase the risk of a teen committing suicide. Suicidal teens and adults often share similar characteristics that can indicate they may be thinking of taking their life. "The first category is "depressive/withdrawn," high in neuroticism," and "negativistic/avoidant,"" said Dr. Hafeez. "Those with the latter disposition demonstrate significant levels of negative mood, have trouble controlling their moods (particularly unpleasant ones) and are likely to "overreact" to daily triggers. Therefore, this subgroup is more prone to depression and anxiety disorders and often commits suicide as a result."

As a parent, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that a teen may show if they are contemplating suicide. "In no particular order, they typically include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, loss of interest in things that used to bring them joy, not wanting to spend time with family or friends, increase in alcohol or drug use, being negligent about personal hygiene and one's overall appearance, giving away personal items, risk-taking, talking about death or dying, and an overall depressive mood," said Dr. Hafeez. However, someone can be suicidal without showing all of these signs.

What to do if you think your child may want to take their life

If you believe your child is trying to end their life, you need to take immediate action. Dr. Hafeez explained that parents in this scenario should call 911 right away. "Don't try to bargain, placate, or comfort," Dr. Hafeez said. "Take it seriously and get immediate medical attention. Before medics arrive, remove any sharp objects, pills, or weapons if they are in sight. Take away their car keys." This is not a time to wonder if your child is joking or trying to get your attention.

If your teen is not actively talking about suicide but is dealing with risk factors like severe depression, there are still actions you can take to avoid the worst-case scenario. According to Dr. Hafeez, you should find "immediate psychological help" if you are concerned about your child's mental state. Depending on the severity of your child's behavior, this may be a difficult task. "That could mean putting them in a locked facility to keep them from harming themselves until medical professionals feel they are no longer a danger to themselves," said Dr. Hafeez. "In the moment, your teen may say they "hate" you for doing this and that they will "never speak to you again," but this is a temporary emotion. When they come out the other side, they will realize that you were only doing this out of love to protect them from harming themselves."

Treatment options for teens contemplating suicide

While some people may need to be constantly supervised if they are actively contemplating suicide, someĀ teens may be able to get other treatment. "As an option to inpatient, intensive outpatient therapy can be done several times a week with both individual and group therapy," said Dr. Hafeez. "Very often, there are opportunities for the family to join in the sessions. A therapist can make the judgment if it is prudent for the teen to be outside of a "locked" and supervised 24/7 situation."

The best treatment for your child will depend on many factors, which can best be determined by a doctor or a therapist, so it is important to take your teen's feelings seriously and seek medical help as soon as you become concerned. "Pay very close attention to what your teen is doing, and who he/she is spending time with," said Dr. Hafeez. "Look for any drastic change in eating, studying, sleeping, or dress habits.

While you do not have complete control of your child's life, the best way to prevent a suicide attempt is to take them seriously. "Many times, parents dismiss statements like, "I want to die", as "teenage drama," said Dr. Hafeez. "Sometimes it is, but sometimes it's not. When your teen makes a statement like that, sit down with them and find out what happened. Things that might sound trivial to adults can be monumental to a teen and can cause them to have suicidal ideations."

What experts wish parents knew about teen suicide

Suicide is a topic that many people don't even want to think about, but this is not helpful for your child. "Many parents feel that if they provide a loving, stable home, their child is not at risk," said Dr. Hafeez. "Today's teens face enormous pressure outside the home such as bullying, online bullying, scholastic pressure, body image issues, discrimination due to race or sexual orientation, addiction issues, and even financial worries as college costs have risen." But parents shouldn't feel like they can't help their children at all. "If you model an environment at home of openness and discuss feelings and emotions, you encourage your teen to do the same," said Dr. Hafeez.

If you or someone you love is considering suicide, contact the Crisis Text Line by texting "start" to 741-741. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or The Trevor Helpline, which specializes in LGBTQ+ suicide prevention, at 1-800-850-8078.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD addresses some of today's common issues such as body image, social media addiction, relationships, workplace stress, parenting, psychopathology, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, attention and memory problems, and abuse. She often shares her credible expertise to various news outlets in New York City and frequently appears on CNN and Dr.Oz. Connect with her via Instagram @drsanamhafeez or