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The Mālama Ola Minute is a series brought to you by the Kamehameha Schools Mālama Ola Division to increase awareness, promote discussion, and offer tools to improve the physical and mental health of our haumāna.

Mālama Ola Minute: Helping a child at risk for suicide

Sept. 9, 2021

According to a recent CDC report, emergency room visits for adolescent suicide attempts nationwide soared early this year especially among girls. Visits for suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 rose by nearly 51% between February and March versus the comparable pre-pandemic period in 2019. The rate for boys ages 12 to 17 also increased but by a much lesser amount (3%).

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. None of us wants to believe that our keiki are at risk for suicide. But during this tumultuous time, staying alert to warning signs and talking openly with kids about their feelings are more important than ever.

Here are a few tips on suicide prevention to follow and to share with those around you:

Look for the signs
Keep your eyes, ears and heart open to the possibility that thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm may be present in your keiki. It’s normal for teens to feel sad during the ongoing pandemic – crying sometimes because they miss their friends or because sports and social events have been cancelled. However, your teen may benefit from extra support if they have:

  • Changes in mood such as irritability, increased anxiety or fear, feelings of hopelessness or rage, and frequent conflicts with friends and family.
  • Changes in social behavior. If your outgoing teen seems more withdrawn and stops texting and video chatting with friends while stuck at home, this may be cause for concern.
  • A lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
  • A difficult time falling or staying asleep, or sleeping all the time
  • Changes in weight or eating patterns, including a change in appetite or eating all the time.
  • Problems with memory, thinking, or concentration.
  • Changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene (within reason, since many are doing slightly less grooming during this time at home.)
  • An increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol.
  • Thinking or talking about death or suicide and giving away prized possessions.

How to help a suicidal teen
Following are some recommendations for helping suicidal teens from Mental Health America, a national leader in mental health support, recovery and advocacy:

  • Remain calm.  Our kids look to the adults in their lives to help them understand a crisis situation. It’s important for you to practice self-care, model calm behaviors, and temper your own reactions so as not to exacerbate an already stressful situation.
  • Offer help and listen. Encourage teens to talk about their feelings. Listen nonjudgmentally, don’t lecture.  Normalize their emotions by letting them know that they’re not alone.
  • Trust your instincts. Remember, as a parent, you know your teen better than anybody else! If it seems that the situation may be serious, seek help. Break a confidence if necessary, in order to save a life.
  • Pay attention if your child talks about suicide. Ask direct questions and don’t be afraid of frank discussions. Safety-proof your home by removing or locking up all items that could be used for self-harm. These items include weapons, sharp objects and medications.
  • Seek professional help. It is essential to seek expert advice from a mental health professional who has experience helping depressed teens. Also, alert key adults in the teen’s life – family, friends, and counselors.

What KS is doing:
At Kamehameha Schools, we understand the need for supporting the mental health of our haumāna to help them be successful both at school and in life. To better address our students’ mental health needs, we have behavioral health professionals on every campus, implemented depression screening in students who visit middle or high school health rooms, and increased engagement with ʻohana.

Crisis support
If you think your child may be suicidal, use the resources below to get free help –
24 hours a day, seven days a week:

  • The State of Hawaiʻi Crisis Line: (808) 832-3100 or toll free at 1-800-753-6879
  • National Crisis Text Line: Text “ALOHA” to 741741
  • National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-SUICIDE
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • In case of an emergency, call 911.

LEARN MORE

Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators
National Association of School Psychologists

10 Things Parents Can Do to Prevent Suicide
The American Academy of Pediatrics

Your Child Has Thought About Ending Their Life – What’s Next? (PDF)
Center for Suicide Prevention and Research



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