One of the most worrisome recent trends is the rise in youth depression and related suicides. Although mental health professions will debate the cause, there is no doubt that youth-serving organizations need to be prepared to help our children cope with depression and suicidal thoughts.
First, we need to be aware of what behavior indicates danger to our clients. Be certain that your staff is trained on the warning signs of suicide and depression. Some of those red flags include talk about wanting to die, self-harming behavior, struggling to deal with a big loss, expressions of despair, withdrawal, and saying that nothing will ever get better. Previous suicide attempts also are associated with a high risks of repeated attempts.
Next, be certain that if your staff sees any of that behavior, they have a plan for responding. Some good steps include expressing concern to the child, being a safe space to discuss feelings without judgment, telling the minor's parent or caregiver, and recommending professional help.
Sometimes, the signs are more urgent. If, for example, you hear a client mention a specific plan for suicide, then you need to immediately call their parent and consider an emergency report to authorities. If you don't have an expert on staff who can walk you through what to do next, then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text the Crisis Text Line to develop an emergency plan.
Working with a depressed or suicidal child can be extremely frightening. The more prepared we are for the crisis, the better we can help them move past this terribly final solution to their problems.