How do I deal with my 14 year old daughter's "unspoken" threats to hurt herself/commit suicide? She has never said anything to me, but I know from reports to her school guidance counselor, her comments/poetry on my space, and having heard from her friend's and their parents. She knows I am aware because of school, parent, and child services involvement. However, when I try to discuss it or when it is brought up by the school, parents, or others she denies it (e.g. that she said or did anything self-destructive, or that she want to die). She has been cutting herself for some time and acting out in many other ways. This self destructive behavior and comments have been going on for nearly a year and continue to escalate with each passing week. My gut instinct based on my knowing her, tells me she is doing this to manipulate people (especially me, but also friends for attention) and situations, but I am also concerned about the underlying emotional factors that are driving this behavior. She refuses to participate in any type of counselling and will not talk to me or any adults about it. I have been told by the school and the authorities that until she does something drastic that there is nothing they can/will do. Can you provide any advice/resources?
Please review the page on cutting: MyOutOfControlTeen.com/cutting
Re: threats of suicide.
Hormones, problems at school, feelings of inadequacy and emotional development can all play a part when an adolescent threatens suicide. Sometimes they are looking for attention, and sometimes they have every intention of following through with their threats. Regardless of the motivation, however, you should never treat it as an empty threat. When your adolescent threatens suicide, you should act quickly and ask questions later.
The most important thing to do when your adolescent threatens suicide is to keep her in your line of sight. Even if you are absolutely certain that your adolescent is crying out for attention -- and therefore has no intention of following through -- you will never forgive yourself if your suspicions are wrong.
Realize that you cannot handle this yourself, no matter how close you are with your adolescent. Threats of suicide mean that you need an expert's assistance in the matter, regardless of the time or circumstance. You might consider calling a psychiatrist and making an emergency appointment. This might be difficult if you don't live in a large city, but most psychiatrists will arrange emergency visits.
Here’s more info on teen suicide:
1. Anti-social behaviors are not good indicators of suicide risk as once thought. Suicide is equally common among popular kids as it is among unpopular kids.
2. Movies, music, books and web sites do not lead to suicide. Often these media get blamed when a suicide occurs because certain types of music or web sites are found among the deceased possessions. In reality suicidal people tend to seek these things out rather than be led astray by them. A sudden and extreme interest in these things can be a precursor to a suicide attempt.
3. Peer pressure is at its most influential during the teen years and things like bullying and exclusion by peers can cause teens to see death as the only way out or as a way of gaining attention from peer groups that ignore them.
4. Statistically speaking suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers, a close second to automobile accidents. Some experts feel that many car accidents are actually suicides and that the rates are so close that suicide may actually be the leading cause of death in teens.
5. Suicide clusters, multiple suicides within a closed community or peer group, often occur and are not fully understood by experts. When a suicide occurs at your school or in your community it is wise to seek help for friends who have threatened suicide or attempted suicide in the past as cluster victims are not always known to one another.
6. Suicide pacts are a youth phenomenon and are almost non-existent in other age groups. Experts feel that peer pressure may be in part to blame since it is at its most influential during the teen years. If a friend ever pressures you to commit suicide or to aid them in their attempt seek help immediately.
7. Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. Even threats veiled as jokes can mask a sincere desire to harm oneself. Always seek help for a friend who threatens suicide or repeatedly jokes about killing themselves.
8. The reasons why suicide is so prevalent among teens is still a mystery but experts do have some ideas as to why teenagers are at a greater risk. The three most common factors considered to account for the high suicide rate among teens are; an immortality complex in which teens don't appear to grasp the finality of death, reactive-immaturity in which the psyche is thought to not yet have developed enough maturity to control emotional reactivity to negative or hurtful occurrences, and broad hormonal fluctuations that can lead to irrational thought processes and bouts of depression.
9. There is no such thing as a failed suicide attempt; these are really desperate cries for help. Often people think that somebody who tries to commit suicide but survives is only seeking attention but in reality suicide survivors are 12x more likely to eventually die from suicide than teens who threaten suicide but do not ever act on the threat. People who have attempted suicide and survived are at a high risk to eventually take their own life.
10. While clinical depression is common among suicidal people of all ages it is less common in teens. Suicidal teens are more likely to be reacting to social and environmental pressures when they become suicidal than they are to be suffering from a true mental illness. For this reason suicide is often harder for experts to predict in teens.
Hope this helps,
Mark Hutten, M.A.