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A new study is highlighting a crucial link between family acceptance and teen suicide prevention. Researchers say teens who have attempted suicide or tried to hurt themselves are more likely to try again when they feel invalidated by parents or their friends.

Ways of invalidating feelings included:

  • Not accepting an aspect of a teenager’s identity or preferences, such as sexuality
  • Telling a teen they should not feel the way they do, including when a teen feels depressed or anxious
  • Not taking suicide talk seriously

For the study, researchers interviewed 99 teenagers and their parents when the children were admitted to psychiatric facilities because of a suicide attempt or elevated suicide risk and then again six months later. Each week, researchers asked the teens if they felt accepted by family and friends and if they were able to express their true thoughts and feelings without being ignored or made fun of.

Girls were more likely than boys to perceive rejection from their families, but that perceived rejection did not increase their risk of suicide attempts. The outcome was different in males, however, as the boys who felt invalidated were almost four times more likely to attempt suicide than boys who did not feel rejected.

Feelings of rejection also had an impact on the incidence of self-injury. Both boys and girls who felt rejected by peers were more likely to self-harm.

Researchers say it is important to educate parents on the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidality. Parents need to learn to take the stresses and worries of their adolescents seriously and to never dismiss talk of suicide.

Changes in behavior parents should watch for include:

  • Decrease in sleep
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Giving away possessions
  • Increase in substance use
  • Self-Injury, such as cutting

Further, parents who are concerned their child is at risk for suicide should remove firearms, sharp objects, large quantities of pills and other substances that teens could use in a suicide attempt.

Researchers stress that while the study found a correlation between a lack of family or peer acceptance and suicide and self-harm risk, the study does not prove the factors were a direct cause.

SOURCES: Shirley Yen, Ph.D., associate professor, department of psychiatry and human behavior, Brown University and Warren Alpert Medical School, Providence, R.I.; Susan De Luca, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work and women’s studies, University of Texas at Austin; Sept. 29, 2014, Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology online

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