Many Parents Are In The Dark About Their Kids’ Mental Health Struggles

Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for adolescents in the country. And in the Mountain West, youth suicide rates are double, and in some cases triple, the national average. Now, a new study shows parents are often unaware that their kids are struggling.

The study surveyed five thousand kids from age 11 to 17 as well as their parents or guardians. Rhonda Boyd, a clinical psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a co-author on the study, said “fifty percent of parents were unaware their kids were thinking about killing themselves, and seventy-five percent of parents were unaware that their adolescents were thinking about death or dying.”

Boyd said those numbers were higher than expected and there were some noticeable trends. Parents of younger kids were less likely to know their children were suicidal and fathers were less likely to be aware than mothers.

It’s pretty normal for teens to avoid talking to their parents about this kind of thing, said Boyd. But the disconnect can lead to harmful outcomes.

“Parents are usually the gatekeepers in getting kids access to mental health treatment,” Boyd said. “So if the parents are not aware, the youth may not get into the mental health treatment that they need.”

Boyd said parents should talk to their kids about suicide. She said the myth that kids will be more likely to commit suicide if you ask them about it  – is just that – a myth.

The study also recommends increased mental health screenings at doctors offices and schools as well as getting other adults, like teachers and coaches, trained to recognize warning signs.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.