Innovative Program Teaches Adults How to Help Teens Who Have Suicidal Thoughts

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It’s a lot to push back on, though.

Suicides are up, and drug overdoses are up even more.

“I think it’s just the way many young people who are having serious mental health problems are dying,” King said.

Results from new studies like this, though, should offer some hope to those struggling with suicidal thoughts and the people around them, said Paul Gionfriddo, president of the nonprofit Mental Health America.

“To see this study tracking this over a long time is helpful to the field in general, to give people more hope that pathways to recovery are possible, even without medical [interventions],” Gionfriddo told Healthline.

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The fact that providing extra support to young people might help strengthen those pathways wasn’t surprising to him, but he said it highlights that even people who aren’t medical professionals can help provide that support as well.

He suggested peers might be able to provide similar support to that given by the adults in this study.

One of the ways that might work is that talking with other people can help bring you back to reality, said Mary Alvord, PhD, a psychologist and clinical fellow of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“When you say things out loud to someone, you can say, ‘Oh yeah, wait a second.’ It takes you out of that headspace,” Alvord told Healthline. “When we’re just completely in our own heads we don’t have reality checks.”

She said that there’s so much we still don’t know about suicide prevention and that is distressing to those in the mental health field. But we do know social support is key to bouncing back from suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Parents and other adults often feel helpless in trying to provide that support, Alvord said, but if, like in this study, you “can build the support for the support, then you’re bolstering everyone.”

For parents and others looking to help out but not sure how, King recommends first getting some information about a teen’s recommended treatment plans, as well as adjusting to the idea that it’s OK for other adults that teen trusts to be involved, too.

“If you’re feeling hopeless and that there’s nothing you can do, this study would suggest you can provide help — even over a short period of time,” Gionfriddo said.

He recommends getting training in active listening and not being judgmental about parents and others who may not know how to react. Instead, we should create strategies that give them more support, he said.

“When this study began there would have been much less mental health first aid and training… so we already have some interventions that are in place that can provide more support,” Gionfriddo said. “But many more are needed still, and this might point in the direction of new strategies to help.”

There are also some resources online about how to talk to teens who are struggling, including some guidelines by King.

The suicide prevention hotline is available to those worried about loved ones, not just those with suicidal thoughts. You can call 1-800-273-8255, available 24 hours a day every day of the year.