Each year, the Midwest summer sun rescues my community from the darkness of winter. It's a welcome respite in many respects. Yet, as a psychotherapist working with youth, summer is also a time of vigilance.

While images of carefree vacations, warmer weather, and time for fun permeate my mind with the word "summer," I am also aware that this can be a dangerous time for many. Contrary to intuition, the spring and summer months hold the highest rates of death by suicide (Christodoulou et al., 2012) across age groups. For adolescents, the risk may be particularly heightened, with suicide attempts being most common in the summer months (Akkaya-Kalayci et al., 2017).

While the reasons for this are somewhat unknown, warmer weather may bring with it easier access to lethal means of suicide. In addition, a cornucopia of factors, including changed sleep patterns, less structure, withdrawal of support while out of school, less supervision, and decreased activity, could all play a role in adolescent suicide risk in the summer.

Youth suicide is something no one wants to think about. Yet, through awareness, there are steps parents and other concerned adults may be able to take to support teens in these challenging months.

What follows are five such steps.

Parents are often understandably frightened by the thought that their child could ever have thoughts of suicide. Yet, the reality is that at this time, suicide is the leading cause of death worldwide for youth between ages 10 and 19 (Glenn et al., 2020). Talking to teens about suicide will not increase the chances that they will engage in such behavior. Yet, if teens are aware that parents will be supportive if they come to them with such thoughts, that can serve as a lifeline. If your child mentions thoughts of suicide, express gratitude for their courage to talk to you about these things. Listen to them. Mentioning to your youth that it's OK to talk about mental health and modeling this on hold can set a precedent where youth will hopefully reach out if they are hurting.

Sometimes, youth do not discuss their experiences of depression because they do not want to upset their parents or get in trouble. Unfortunately, many parents are quick to feel defensive when mental health is discussed, even further deterring youth from seeking support. An adolescent's thoughts of suicide are not your fault as a parent, yet it is your responsibility to show up and protect them in those times by ensuring their safety and reaching out for help if needed. Research has repeatedly shown that having at least one trusted adult in the life of a youth can help prevent suicide and improve outcomes in a whole range of areas (Pringle et al., 2018).

Without school, summer is typically much less structured for youth. Yet, the rhythm of getting up and doing things can be protective. When youth are experiencing depression, it's usual for them to withdraw to their rooms with little activity, which ultimately serves to worsen depression. If your youth is not in school for the summer, see what other activities or daily structures can be created. Activities ranging from volunteering at a local animal shelter to guitar lessons, a library summer reading program, or camps might help to give your teen something to look forward to in the day and a positive outlet.

School and extra-curricular activities are often prime points of social interaction for youth. If your teen has struggled with friendships, you may check in with them about what social plans they have for summer. If they do not have any social plans, setting up some structured time with other teens, be it attending groups at a youth center or meeting with same-aged cousins, may supplement some of this social need.

Many adolescents turn into nocturnal creatures in the summer, sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. To some extent, sleeping later often fits with youth's natural sleep rhythms as youth do, on average, have a slightly later circadian structure than adults. Still, if a teen is up throughout the night, they may miss out on the typical going-on of everyday life. Making a compromise of perhaps sleeping in some, but still keeping a consistent sleep window that allows the teen to take part in some meaningful activity in the day is one way to guard against this pattern.

If your teen expresses thoughts of suicide, it is essential to seek out professional support for them. If they are at immediate risk to themselves, this could include crisis resources or going to the emergency room. Psychotherapy can also help youth who are having experiences of depression or thoughts of self-harm. Resources also exist to support parents of teens who are coping with depression. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and Mental Health America, provide support groups in some communities. Other local support may also be available.

Teens do not always feel comfortable coming to family when in crisis. Being able to access crisis text, chat, and phone support, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 9-8-8, offers youth another avenue for seeking support through access to a trained counselor 24 hours a day. Just as your teen may need to talk to a doctor for physical health concerns or a physical therapist for rehabilitation after a sports injury, sometimes youth also need to talk to a mental health professional. These lines are not meant to supersede your role as your youth's caregiver, but by allowing an additional outlet, and resources as these save lives.

Conversations surrounding mental health can be challenging—and lifesaving for families. If you need support, know that help is available. There is no shame in reaching out for help demonstrating to your youth that you are a safe space to come to for help, and providing other resources as needed, you are showing up for your teen.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Akkaya-Kalayci, T., Vyssoki, B., Winkler, D., Willeit, M., Kapusta, N. D., Dorffner, G., & Özlü-Erkilic, Z. (2017). The effect of seasonal changes and climatic factors on suicide attempts of young people. BMC psychiatry, 17, 1-7.

Christodoulou, C., Efstathiou, V., Bouras, G., Korkoliakou, P., & Lykouras, L. (2012). Seasonal variation of suicide. A brief review. Encephalos, 49(73), 9.

Glenn, C. R., Kleiman, E. M., Kellerman, J., Pollak, O., Cha, C. B., Esposito, E. C., & Boatman, A. E. (2020). Annual Research Review: A meta‐analytic review of worldwide suicide rates in adolescents. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 61(3), 294-308.

Pringle, J., Whitehead, R., Milne, D., Scott, E., & McAteer, J. (2018). The relationship between a trusted adult and adolescent outcomes: A protocol of a scoping review. Systematic Reviews, 7, 1-7.

QOSHE - Summer's Shadow of Teen Depression and Suicide - Jennifer Gerlach Lcsw
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Summer's Shadow of Teen Depression and Suicide

27 0
17.06.2024

Each year, the Midwest summer sun rescues my community from the darkness of winter. It's a welcome respite in many respects. Yet, as a psychotherapist working with youth, summer is also a time of vigilance.

While images of carefree vacations, warmer weather, and time for fun permeate my mind with the word "summer," I am also aware that this can be a dangerous time for many. Contrary to intuition, the spring and summer months hold the highest rates of death by suicide (Christodoulou et al., 2012) across age groups. For adolescents, the risk may be particularly heightened, with suicide attempts being most common in the summer months (Akkaya-Kalayci et al., 2017).

While the reasons for this are somewhat unknown, warmer weather may bring with it easier access to lethal means of suicide. In addition, a cornucopia of factors, including changed sleep patterns, less structure, withdrawal of support while out of school, less supervision, and decreased activity, could all play a role in adolescent suicide risk in the summer.

Youth suicide is something no one wants to think about. Yet, through awareness, there are steps parents and other concerned adults may be able to take to support teens in these challenging months.

What follows are five such steps.

Parents are often understandably frightened by the thought that their child could ever have thoughts of suicide. Yet, the reality is that at this time, suicide is the leading cause of death worldwide for youth between ages 10 and 19 (Glenn et al., 2020). Talking to teens about suicide will not increase the chances that they will engage in such behavior. Yet, if teens are aware that parents will be supportive if they come to them with such thoughts, that can serve as a........

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