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Preventing Teen Suicide


Dr. Gayani DeSilva MD


Children and Parenting

Gayani DeSilva is a Child Adolescent Psychiatrist with 20 years experience. She is the author of A Psychiatrists Guide: Helping Parents Reach Their Depressed Tween, and A Psychiatrists Guide: Stop Teen Addiction Before It Starts.

Adolescents are attempting suicide and self harming behaviors more than they were 10 years ago. There are researched based interventions that can help curb this tragic, rising trend. It starts in the home, but extends to the community too. We all have a role to play.


The quality of the parent-child relationship is the number one factor in preventing teen suicide. Parenting with warmth and consistency reduces the risk of developing mood disorders, including depression and suicidal behaviors. Also, parenting with a harsh style, inconsistent discipline, and with low parental monitoring leads to an increase in suicidal activities. Thankfully, parents can learn to parent with a warmer, more beneficial style.


Preventing, and ceasing the maltreatment of children. This may seem like an obvious point, but it takes conscious effort to avoid the maltreatment of children. This includes, no hitting, spanking, neglecting, abusing, or taking advantage of children,. It also includes supporting a children's interests, education, health and wellness. Take them to the park. Be active in school. Support their sports events. Treat your own mental illness. Do not engage in substance abuse. Do not get incarcerated. Maltreatment increases the risk of teen suicide attempts by 80%. Maltreatment makes changes to the child's brain that may not be reversible.


PCIT, which stands for Parent Child Interaction Therapy, helps parents learn how to parent in a helpful way. Therapists help parents manage their own feelings and reactions, so that they can be attentive, warm, consistent and non-reactive with their children.


School based programs are effective also. Question, Persuade and Refer is one program for any adult to use. Most children and teens do not ask for help. This makes it imperative that adults who come in contact with children take the initiative. Question: Ask children and teens about their feelings, experiences, needs, and wants. Ask if they are contemplating suicide. Persuade children and teens to talk and open up, and to seek help from professionals. Refer: give the child or teen numbers and resources. Make the referral to professionals.


Go to the child and teenager. Express your desire to help them. Help them access professional help. Help families access help. Support school-based mental health treatment programs.


Substance use, including marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, and others, increases the risk of suicide attempt exponentially. Help your teen avoid and stop using substances.

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