Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadian teens. Understanding teen suicide is a complex task, as numerus psychological, biological and environmental factors can contribute. Le SPOT Montréal is a specialized centre at The Montreal Children’s Hospital (The Children’s) offering intensive suicide prevention and treatment for youth ages 12-17.
Le SPOT Montréal’s multidisciplinary team includes a psychiatrist, psychologists, social workers, a nurse and other mental health professionals. They use evidenced-based treatments to alleviate and treat the suicidality.
While the initial interventions with a teen focus on safety, further treatment seeks to build protective factors such as emotional regulation skills, coping and problem-solving skills, self-acceptance and supportive family relationships.
The team also ensures the teens and families transition smoothly to community services for ongoing support. Teens who have attempted or are contemplating suicide must go to The Children’s Emergency Department for an initial evaluation by a psychiatrist to determine suitability and eligibility for Le SPOT Montréal’s intensive services.
What makes teens vulnerable to suicide?
For more teens, adolescence is a stage of life filled with confusion, stress, worry, disappointment, loss and anger and it is a time of rapid physical and emotional change.
As well, during this developmental period, the many hurdles associated with the transition to adulthood, such as academic success and developing healthy relationships, become apparent.
Some teenagers, particularly those with significant mental health issues and limited social support, may perceive suicide as a permanent way to escape their problems or negative feelings which they may not realize are often only temporary.
What can parents do?
It is perfectly normal for parents to worry about their child during adolescence, particularly since many teens are often unwilling talk about their thoughts and feelings and are more reactive to change. This often results in parents feeling isolated, frustrated, and unsure how to respond when their teen is in distress.
Parents should look for a way to express their feelings, so their distress does not interfere with how they talk with and deal with their teen. Listening attentively is a way to show interest, empathy, and support towards your child.
Parents are often quick to give their child advice or solutions to their problems, which can leave an adolescent feeling judged and not well supported. Parents need to take the time to nurture and develop the parent/adolescent relationship by finding common interests/activities and being available when your child needs to talk.
These are important investments in your teen’s well-being because a positive relationship with parents can protect teens from developing mental health issues.
Finally, if parents feel their teenager is experiencing mental health issues, talk to them about getting support (call 811 and select option 2 to speak with a case worker).
Warning signs a teen is thinking about suicide might include:
• Talking about suicide and self-harm,
• Crying more, appearing sad or down,
• Sleeping and eating changes (less or more),
• Anger, irritability, reactivity that is out of character,
• Drop in academic performance,
• Drop in energy and not enjoying activities like they did before,
• Expressing hopelessness and/or helplessness,
• Neglecting self-care (not showering, not putting on makeup like before),
• Drug or alcohol use.
What should to do if you suspect you teen is suicidal:
If you think your teen is in immediate danger, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room. If you suspect your teen is thinking about suicide, talk to them about suicide and seek further mental health care.
It is completely normal to feel shocked, scared, angry, and denial, but it’s important to act calmly with your adolescent and most importantly, to take them seriously.
Realize they may not want to tell you too much about their thoughts and actions at first, which is very normal and the reason why it is important to consult mental health resources and professionals.
Create a safe, calm space for your adolescent so your teen can speak to you without judgment or blame. Remove or secure all lethal means of suicide in your home including potentially dangerous substances/products.
Call 24/7/365 services for support and advice:
• Kids help phone: 1-800-668-6868
• Suicide Action Montreal: 1-866-277-3553
• Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566
Helping your child cope takes time and patience. Speak with your adolescent and seek appropriate care if worried.
Dr. Stefanie Belanger and Dr. Mafalda Porporino, are psychologists at The Montreal Children’s Hospital.