By Rosanna Castro
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death among teens in the United States. Among high school students alone, approximately one in five reports having seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months.
Unfortunately, most teens who experience thoughts of suicide never receive professional help, in part due to the severe shortage of behavioral healthcare providers.
To help prevent teen suicide, FIU Psychology Professor Jeremy Pettit created an evidence-based guidebook made specifically for teens with FIU alumnus Ryan M. Hill, currently an assistant professor of psychology at Louisiana State University.
The book “Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts for Teens” was created to help teens effectively cope with suicidal thoughts by reducing emotional pain, increasing hope, and building meaningful connections in their lives.
“This severe shortage or mental health professionals, in addition to barriers to accessing care, highlights the critical need for other approaches to suicide prevention in this at-risk population, said Pettit. “As the first book written for teens that provides evidence-based strategies for overcoming thoughts of suicide, this book directly addresses that need.”
The guidebook is grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) principles and is filled with proven-effective activities and skills, which will help teens:
- Identify their triggers and the type of support they need
- Create a safety plan for when things feel hopeless
- Manage intense feelings, thoughts, and stress
- Build and strengthen relationships
- Boost positive feelings
- Make healthy lifestyle changes and set goals
“While this guidebook can be helpful to all teens who struggle with thoughts of suicide, it’s important not to view it as the only resource available. We recommend caregivers to talk to their teen about suicide,” said Pettit. “One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that talking about suicide will put the idea in someone’s head; compelling data from multiple studies demonstrate that doesn’t happen.”
Pettit also recommends for parents to take all signs of distress and suicidal thoughts seriously. “Parents should listen to their teen without passing judgment, reassure them of their support, and help them access professional help if they are struggling with thoughts of suicide,” added Pettit.
“I hope this book can help as many teens as possible, especially teens who face barriers to accessing professional help. I also hope it can facilitate conversations between teens and parents about this sensitive but very important topic,” said Pettit.
While the suicide rate is high among teens, it is also the fifth leading cause of death for preteens. And currently, there is no standardized way to assess suicide risk among preteens.
Pettit just secured funding from the National Institute of Mental Health for the next year to develop, validate, and standardize a way to assess suicide risk among preteens.
“There is an urgent need to reconsider and adopt measures and methods used to assess suicide thoughts and behaviors in older adolescents and adults for preteens at risk, including from minoritized backgrounds,” said Pettit. “We hope that this funding will bring us one step closer to developing an effective method to screen preteens at risk for suicide, which will facilitate efforts to intervene as early as possible.”
The Center for Children and Families at FIU provides evidence-based treatments — in English and Spanish — for children and adolescents who are experiencing depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Parents can call 305-348-0477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Pettit is a licensed psychologist and is the director of the Child Anxiety and Phobia Program at the Center for Children and Families. Pettit conducts research on depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviors in childhood and adolescence. He has published more than 150 research articles on these topics and received multiple awards for his work.
If you or your child is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).