Teenagers are capable of all kinds of strange behavior. How can you tell whether your child is exhibiting typical teenage angst - or showing signs that he is at risk for suicide?
Here are 15 red flags parents should watch for, assembled with the help of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Benjamin Shain, who heads the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at NorthShore University HealthSystems in Illinois.
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde
Has your once easygoing teen suddenly become irritable? Your fastidious teen sloppy? Either could be a red flag, says Dr. Shain.
Has your child's hygiene or general appearance changed in shocking ways? That could be a sign of depression.
Stressful life events - unwanted pregnancy, breakups with girlfriends or boyfriends, being bullied at school - can lead to a suicidal crisis, says Dr. Shain.
Rebel Without a Cause
Some kids argue, disobey rules, and push limits, says Dr. Shain. That's worrisome - especially if the behavior starts suddenly and out of nowhere.
Teens who run away from home may be experiencing a stressful situation you don't know about, says Dr. Shain, who notes that homeless kids have a higher rate of suicide.
Take This Gift
Is your teen giving away prized possessions? That's "ominous," says Dr. Shain.
A Dark Haiku
Writing about death is common in young people with suicidal thoughts, says Dr. Shain. Sometimes parents discover the writings. Sometimes a student will turn in dark writing assignment to a teacher.
Has he/she tried to commit suicide before? There's a higher risk for a second attempt.
Are You Holding?
Alcohol and drug experimentation are common among teenagers, which may makes it difficult for you, and perhaps a professional, to determine your child's level of risk, says Dr. Shain. But know that drug and alcohol use are risk factors for suicide.
I Want To Be Alone
Is your teen having trouble getting along with friends and family? What about a boyfriend or girlfriend? Either could be a red flag, especially if you notice other changes in behavior.
Is your teen complaining of headaches, stomachaches, or other ailments? That could be an indicator of an anxiety disorder, says Dr. Shain. Anxiety disorders can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Did You Hear The One . . .
Does your teen talk about suicide, even jokingly? Take it seriously, says Dr. Shain.
Call Me Nobody
Even if your child seems to be doing well from an outsider's perspective, what really matters is how he/she feels inside, says Dr. Shain. If he says he feels like a failure, listen. And consider getting him evaluated by a professional.
Is your teen awake all night or sleeping all day? Changes in sleep patterns are worth keeping an eye on, if you think your child is depressed.
There is a difference between not wanting to sleep and not needing to sleep, says Dr. Shain. The latter is a symptom of bipolar illness. People who are bipolar have a higher risk of suicide.
Does he/she always seem bored? Boredom can be a symptom of depression. What about trouble concentrating? Same thing, and both issues could be indicators of drug abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse put teens at risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior.