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Suicidal Teen

Question:

I have a young teenager who is having a problem with a guy friend. He is a good kid in general, but recently he apparently attempted suicide. My teenager is trying to talk to him, but at the same time he doesn’t want her to tell anyone what has happened. I would step in except for the matter of him attempting “it” again. He has stated that he would (attempt to harm himself again) if my teenager were to tell. Where do I go from here? My teenager can’t handle all of this and I am worried about her well being.

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  • ‘Anne’ is the pseudonym for the individual who writes this relationship advice column.
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Answer:

Someone like this suicidal boy would likely benefit under the temporary care of a mental health professional. The reasons for the suicidal crisis cry out to be uncovered and addressed. Support needs to be offered. Questions need answering: Is he being abused or bullied? Is he depressed? Support and treatment are likely available, but the process cannot happen if secrecy is maintained. It is wonderful that your daughter is willing to support this troubled young man, but she needs to recognize that her ability to support someone who is suicidal is necessarily limited. She simply cannot stop this boy from harming himself if he chooses to do so. Nor is it fair to her (or safe for him) that she should be held hostage by the weight of his secret. The responsible thing for her (and anyone in this sort of circumstance) to do is to strongly and repeatedly encourage the suicidal person to seek help, and to call for that help if and when that person appears to be ready to harm themselves again. Given the circumstances, perhaps she can strongly encourage this boy to talk to someone responsible who can help; either through the school or through the local hospital or community mental health system. She might also tell this boy that while she wants to help, she has to take any threats he makes seriously, and that means that she will have to enlist the aide of authorities if she comes to believe that he is in eminent danger of harming himself again. It is a myth that talking about suicide and suicide prevention will encourage suicide to occur. By stating what she will do in advance your daughter may take some of the pressure off of her shoulders. It would be perfectly appropriate for her to enlist the help of the police or an emergency room if he becomes acutely suicidal again. Finally, your daughter should be encouraged to talk about what she is going through – with you or with her own counselor – so that she can better come to terms with the situation.

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