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Facing the Unthinkable: Supporting Your Teen Who Has Lost Someone to Suicide

In recent years, roughly 13 percent of adolescents in the United States had a current diagnosis of a mental or behavioral health condition. With anxiety and major depression being the most prevalent of these conditions, many parents want to confront the issue of teen suicide head-on, searching for “counseling for teens near me,” “suicide prevention tools,” and “suicide resources for parents.”

It’s more crucial than ever to talk to teens about suicide. Even if your teen shows no signs of suicidal ideation, conversations about teen suicide are still necessary and can be comforting to them if they’ve lost someone to suicide.

At Suffolk DBT, our team of licensed clinicians provides compassion and expertise when teaching DBT activities for teens that help young people and their families cope with mental and behavioral health crises and offering skills for having proactive conversations about suicide. Read on for guidance in supporting your teen through suicide loss.

 

 

Understand the emotions that may keep your teen from talking about suicide

When a teen loses someone to suicide, many factors may influence how they grieve and cope, including:

  • Emotional turmoil. A suicide within a teen’s family may shatter their sense of security and stability, while a suicide within their social circle could disrupt their sense of trust in others and the world around them. They may struggle to reconcile their memories of their friend and have feelings of sadness, anger, abandonment, betrayal, confusion, and disillusionment, wondering and struggling to comprehend why their friend (or someone they knew) chose to end their life.
  • Identity crisis. Losing someone to suicide can shake a teen’s sense of identity. They may question their beliefs, values, and even their worthiness, grappling with existential questions that feel impossible to answer.
  • Trauma and posttraumatic stress. Witnessing or discovering the aftermath of a suicide can be profoundly traumatic for teens. They may experience flashbacks, nightmares, or intense anxiety, making functioning in daily life a challenge.
  • Guilt and self-blame. Teens may internalize feelings of responsibility for their friend’s suicide, even if they had no direct involvement. There may be a sense of survivor’s guilt that had they known their friend’s struggles, they could’ve done something about it. The overactive, grieving, anxious teenage mind may constantly replay conversations and interactions, looking for signs they may have missed or actions they could’ve taken to prevent suicide.
  • Fear of suicide contagion. Just as a teen suicide in your teen’s network can trigger your concern that your teen may begin having suicidal ideation and engaging in copycat behavior, suicide loss can incite the same fears in your teen. They may feel a sense of responsibility to prevent further suicides.

Recognize the stigma that may keep your teen from talking about suicide, too

Talking to teens about suicide requires compassion, empathy, and understanding. It requires you to keep in mind that statistics about suicide and suicidal ideation aren’t just numbers, but represent people who have thought about, attempted, or died by suicide.

Recognize that while it’s common for teens experiencing suicide loss to withdraw and disconnect, your teen may be ready to talk about it sooner than you think.

How will you know you can talk to your teen about suicide? Will they approach you? Do they know they can approach you when they’re ready?

If you perceive your teen doesn’t feel safe approaching the subject with you, consider societal reasons why individuals facing suicide loss may feel discouraged from sharing their feelings:

  • Many people stigmatize mental illness and suicide in ways that may cause teens to fear people judging the choice their friend made
  • When someone dies by suicide, many people tend to focus on the way they died rather than the way they lived, which could be hurtful to your teen
  • Many people use harmful verbiage when discussing suicide, saying the deceased was “selfish” to die how they did, or they criminalize their death by saying they “committed suicide” the same way people commit crimes, offenses, and sins

Removing blaming and shaming words can make talking to teens about suicide easier, giving them a safe space free of judgment to talk about their suicide loss and their concerns surrounding suicide and suicidal ideation.

Individuals who lose someone to suicide often look for cues from people around them that it’s okay to talk about suicide. At Suffolk DBT, we can help you make it clear to your teen that suicide isn’t a taboo subject for you. We’ll help you listen and communicate attentively in ways that convey understanding and acceptance to your teen and validate their feelings and experiences as they grieve, mourn, and reminisce about the peer they’ve lost and love. 

Gain suicide awareness and suicide prevention tools that can help you initiate and respond to conversations about teen suicide

What are some warning signs to know that could indicate your teen or someone in their network is at imminent risk of teen suicide? Take notice if they

  • Become withdrawn
  • Experience mood swings, sleep changes, and appetite changes
  • Excessively use alcohol and other substances 
  • Talk about being a burden and wanting to die
  • Say goodbye and give away their possessions

While some signs may be evident to you and others more subtle, having an idea of what to look for can help you act if your teen or someone in their network needs emergency care and therapy sessions initiated.

Our Suffolk DBT therapists and staff not only provide counseling for teens near NYC and on Long Island, we also inform New Yorkers about how to reach emergency services in a crisis and where there are local mental health resources available that offer suicide prevention tools for teens and families dealing with suicidal ideation and suicide loss.

With increased suicide awareness and knowledge of where teens can receive emergency care and postvention support, you can help prevent suicide contagion. You, other parents/guardians, and community members can advocate for improved funding and resources for schoolwide and community-wide mental health services and ensure every adolescent and teen has fair access. Support initiatives that promote open, honest conversations about suicide and mental health, encourage help-seeking behaviors, and teach mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

Turn to Suffolk DBT for healing-focused DBT activities for teens

At Suffolk DBT, our licensed clinicians specialize in and use dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to reduce suicide risk.

What is DBT? It’s a specialized form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in New York after she observed that traditional CBT didn’t effectively treat patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and chronic suicidal ideation. DBT, an evidence-based treatment specifically adapted to help people who experience intense emotions, is effective at helping people who manage their emotions through harmful habits and behaviors find healthier alternatives.

DBT activities for teens in counseling can promote radical acceptance and mindfulness that support teens in grieving and healing

Our therapists and staff at Suffolk DBT recognize that the reality of the suicide of a friend can cause discomfort that may drive a person to a state of denial.

Denial can lead your teen to a cycle of bitterness and anger that only exacerbates the pain of their suicide loss. 

In DBT sessions, teens learn to practice radical acceptance, a distress tolerance tool that helps reduce pain and keep it from growing into long-standing suffering. Radical acceptance isn’t approval or surrender but recognition and acceptance of reality for what it is. In the case of a friend’s suicide, radical acceptance requires your teen to recognize that their friend’s decision wasn’t within their control. Through DBT activities for teens, they can learn to 

  • Assess their current situation of grieving suicide loss without judgment
  • Practice mindfulness and remain aware of body sensations like tension or stress
  • Allow themselves to feel emotions like sadness, disappointment, and anger

Support your teen in cultivating healing in DBT counseling for teens near you at Suffolk DBT

Your teen will learn in time how to mindfully look over their days and review what they did to care for themselves and others in their network dealing with suicide loss. They’ll be able to see who and what supported them in their grief. When your teen and you are ready, contact us to start DBT sessions that encourage them to keep healthy control over their emotions. Together, you and your teen can become more confident in what works and what doesn’t work in promoting healing during their grief journey.

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