Crisis Counseling and Suicide Surprise Signs

Crisis counseling and suicide prevention has taught me that
what appears to be a simple misunderstanding between parent
and child can lead to suicide. It's not unusual for
parents to be caught completely by surprise when one of
their children attempts suicide.

According to scientific research, one reason teenagers are
more susceptible to suicide than other age groups is due to
changes in the brain that create increased impulsivity at
around fourteen years of age.

Suicides don't happen just to kids who misbehave, or kids
on drugs or alcohol, or kids with poor grades. Sometimes
the best behaved kids, with the best grades, and,
apparently, everything to live for, commit suicide. So
always take a suicide threat seriously.

Along with other types of cases, I see teenagers for crisis
counseling and suicide prevention at high schools. One day
a high school teacher interrupted my counseling session to
tell me that he was worried one of his students might be a
suicide risk.

He informed me that this student, we will call, David, was
telling other students in the class that he felt like
killing himself. I arranged to see David, immediately, for
counseling and suicide risk assessment.

Eighteen year old, six foot three inch tall, handsome and
leanly built David Ferro appeared well groomed and a very
presentable young man, but the sad expression on his face,
the choked words that he slowly uttered, while staring at
the floor, gave one a different impression. He had
depression written all over him and had come none too soon
to the counseling and suicide program.

David said his parents had no clue that he was seriously
contemplating suicide. In fact, he'd come to counseling
and suicide therapy because he found himself thinking of
various ways to do it. However, he had no specific plan
yet, even though he'd been considering it for the past

David described himself as an average to good student and
never a behavior problem. His teachers agreed and said
that until the past few months, David had seemed an
affable teenager. Neither David nor anyone in his family
had any prior history of depression.

David intended to go to chef school after graduating from
high school. Presently he worked part-time at a local
restaurant. He said he loved his parents and had gotten
along well with them until the past year when they'd begun
to fight regularly. The main problem he presented for
counseling and suicide prevention for was the fact they
refused to allow him to stay out late at night to attend
parties and sleep over at his male friend's home on the

When I asked David if he used drugs, he said, "No."

"Do you smoke marijuana?"

"No," he responded.

"Do you drink alcohol," I continued.

"Sometimes I might have a beer but only to be sociable."

Since many of the teenagers at this particular high school
used drugs, I repeated, "You mean to say, you don't often
drink alcohol and neither smoke marijuana nor use drugs at

"Yes," he replied, still staring at the floor.

"So, why do you like going to these parties?"

"Girls," David responded, "Girls. I want to date the
girls I meet at the parties, but when I call home to ask my
parents for permission to stay at the party longer, they
demand that I come home. It's so frustrating."

"You have an understandably good reason to want to attend
parties. Now, I'm going to be asking your parents to meet
with me in the counseling and suicide prevention program.
So, in order for me to go to bat for you on this party
issue, I need to be sure you're telling me the truth about
the drugs and alcohol. Will they give me the same answers,
you've given me that you take no drugs and consume little
to no alcoholic beverages?"

"Yes, they will."

"If we can work out this problem with your parents, do you
think you will still want to commit suicide?"


"Are you sure?"



"Because this is the only big problem we have."

"No other problems?"


"How about getting to use the car when you want it?"

"We have two cars. Mom and dad go to work together. I
have my own job, so, I can use the car any time I want."

"Can you promise me that between now and the next time I
see you that you will not try to hurt yourself, and that
you will call me for counseling and suicide therapy, a
friend or 911 if you begin to think about it seriously

"I promise."

"You will be happy if we work this problem out in
counseling and suicide therapy?"

"I will."

"Good, because, assuming your parents are reasonable
people, I think we have a good change to work this out."

The next week we all met at the high school for counseling
and suicide therapy. Mr. and Mrs. Ferro were short
compared to their son, David, coming only to his shoulders
in height. They were in their late forties and stood
stooped from all the physical labor they'd performed
through the years. Both parents were proud their son
intended to be a chef and already made almost as much
money as they did working at a local restaurant. In fact,
the owner said he'd hire David as his chef after he
completed the program.

Once we completed the pleasantries at our first meeting of
crisis counseling and suicide therapy, I informed David's
parents that the high school and I considered David a
suicide risk. Both parents stared at me in disbelief and
almost in unison began to laugh. I told them I wasn't
kidding and that I feared for their son's life. Obviously
shocked, both parents, suddenly, burst into tears. They
hadn't a clue their son was contemplating suicide.

During counseling and suicide therapy, I explained to Mr.
and Mrs. Ferro how one of David's teachers came to me
saying that David was telling other students how he wanted
to kill himself that other teachers had heard similar
stories, and that David just didn't seem like himself
lately, that he appeared unhappy and unenergetic.

David's parents explained that they'd seen no change in his
behavior at home and besides they believed the problem with
the parties was minor. They asked me how do parents know
when to refer their child to counseling and suicide
therapy? I said that teenagers, and even some middle
school kids, are at a high risk for suicide these days.
So one has to always be aware of these age groups as
vulnerable to suicide.

What's more with both parents often working, parents and
children, too often, don't get to talk to each other to
find out what's happening in their lives. Hence, I
recommend always having at least one time of day where
parents and their kids check in with one another. Dinner
time is often a good time.

Early warning signs of increased suicide risk are any
change from normal behavior such as downward spiraling of
school grades, decreased energy level, moping around,
increased negativity, not getting out to meet with
friends, increased fighting with siblings, suddenly
spending all free time at home or locked in their rooms,
or becoming loners.

Note too that some say depression is the opposite of play.
Children of all ages decrease stress by playing.

Commonly cited suicide risk indicators are:

  1. Any suicide talk, even if it seems staged to get

  2. Any talk about being dead or wishing they were dead.

  3. Extreme mood swings: happy one moment, sad the next.

  4. Extreme change in friends, habits or appearance:
    skipping school, new friends, etc.

  5. Withdrawing from formerly pleasurable activities as, for
    example, with friends, families, sports, etc.

  6. Regular expressions of worthlessness, or sadness.

  7. Suddenly engaging in wild, risky or dangerous behavior.

  8. Changes in sleeping habits, weight or physical activity.

  9. Making plans for care of loved ones, including pets, or
    giving away cherished belongings.

  10. Suicide attempt

  11. I would add the decreased ability to enjoy play.

After discussing some of the suicide warning signs during
counseling and suicide risk prevention therapy, I asked
Mr. and Mrs. Ferro the following questions:

"Is your son well-behaved?"

"Yes," they agreed.

"Do you love your son?"


"Does David consume alcohol or take drugs."

"No," they chimed.

Then continuing, I explained, "Most good parents want to
protect their children from the dangers of the outside
world like drugs and alcohol, for example. Sometimes it
is difficult for parents when their children change from
children into adults. David has been undergoing that
change. He has a good job. He has plans for his future as
an adult, and he has been successful so far in moving
toward these future goals."

"Both parents agreed that David was grown up and that they
were very proud of him."

I asked, "Do you consider David an adult?"

They looked at one another and nodded, yes.

"He tells me he is unhappy because he wants to go to
parties so he can date girls. Now that David is an adult,
what is your opinion of that?"

David's parents looked at each other in surprise. They'd
been so busy working that they never had thought about
David growing up to manhood. Mr. Ferro, after consulting
with his wife, said, "My son is a man."

"And as a man, do you think it's normal for him to want to
attend parties and date girls?"

"Yes," they agreed.

I turned to David at this point and asked, "David, if your
parents give you permission to attend these parties and
arrange for sleep overs with your buddies, do you think
this will help you get over your unhappiness that has
triggered your suicide talk?"

"Yes," he responded.

"We will all have to discuss this subject more in
counseling and suicide prevention therapy to make sure we
understand one another, and you will need to talk among
yourselves at home, but I think we've made a good start on
solving this problem.

The family agreed. We met a few more times. I called the
home for a monthly check to see things were going okay and
David reassured me he was happy. Furthermore, in checking
with David's teachers over the next few months, they too,
verified David's changed behavior for the better. A little
parenting help through counseling and suicide prevention
therapy made all the difference.

What would have transpired if the teacher had not referred
David to counseling, or what if the school had not had the
foresight to hire a counselor that was readily available
for counseling and suicide prevention?

To summarize this section on counseling and suicide

  1. Kids are, particularly, a suicide risk in their teenage
    years due, in part, to increased impulsivity.

  2. An, apparently, minor problem to parents may be a major
    problem to their child.

  3. Good team work at schools between teachers and
    counselors can save your child's life.

  4. Even well-behaved children with average to good grades
    and, apparently, everything to live for can be suicide

  5. Study the suicide risk indicators, then take any suicide
    risk seriously, even if it seems staged for attention.

  6. Parents are often too overwhelmed with life's burdens to
    notice any regular negative behavior in their children.

  7. Make time to check-in with your kids daily. Dinner is
    a good time.

  8. When in doubt refer your child to preventive
    counseling. Why take a chance with their lives?

  9. Encourage your Teens to play since it decreases stress,
    aggression and anxiety. Play is the opposite of depression.

For topics related to counseling and suicide risk click
for the counseling page, and here for the parenting
advice page.