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Experts: preventing teen suicide starts with talking

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SALT LAKE CITY — Parents struggling to know the difference between regular teen hormones and a real case of depression with risk of suicide should start by talking to their teenagers, experts say.

Dr. Doug Gray, a professor of child psychiatry, tells KSL Newsradio it’s perfectly normal for kids to start shutting their parents out, to argue, and even to take a gloomier perspective on life. But they should also be happy sometimes.

“You’d expect some irritability from a teenager but you wouldn’t expect irritability all of the time,” said Dr. Gray. “I would certainly worried if my teenager didn’t want to be with their friends.”

Dr. Gray says if nothing else, parents should come right out and ask their children, ‘what percentage of the time are you happy?’

“I’d ask them what percentage of the time they are happy. No one is happy all the time. If they are happy 85 percent of the time that’s pretty good. If they are happy 10 percent of the time that’s really worrisome,” Dr. Gray explained.

But he cautions you should only ask when you have enough time to really talk through the answer, and ask some specific and thoughtful questions. They include:

  • Is your child being bullied?
  • What can you do about it?
  • Is he or she depressed?
  • Can you get to a doctor?

Gray says true depression isn’t a shouting fight or a slammed door. He defines it as when your irritable teen stops seeing any sunshine at all, or when their unhappiness persists for weeks.


“I wouldn’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve had struggles with feeling hopeless or suicidal feelings,” Gray said. “Sometimes that direct question gets to it.”

Gray says if you approach with love and give the conversation plenty of time to play out, your teen will probably tell you if they are struggling. It’s the same with bullying.

“Bullying, especially cyber-bullying, can be terrible these days,” he said.

Gray says it can also help to ask your other children. He also encourages both parents and teens to download the SafeUT app. It allows teens to reach out for help with suicidal thoughts 24/7, or to report concerns about people they know.

More: warning signs of suicide

Suicide prevention hotlines and resources