Dear Doctor,  

A family we know is grappling with the tragic loss of their son, who took his own life. They are, as expected, devastated. We have a teenage son, and I am scared given this has happened to someone close to him and to us and who appeared to be a perfectly normal boy. Why does this happen, and how does a parent help to prevent another tragedy?

Scared

Dear scared,

Obviously, the answer is not always the same for each situation, especially where teens are concerned. Let me review three kinds of “causes,” if that is the right term, for such tragedies.

First, and probably the most frequent, involves the teen who is silently dealing with something he or she is unable to face. Statistics show sexual orientation is very often in the picture, and is often kept secret and viewed as a negative. There are other self-critical patterns as well, including undue stress by a parent.

Second involves the angry suicide often aimed at someone. A teen male, for example, may punish a rejecting girl by an angry suicide.

There is also something I refer to as the “resurrection fantasy.” This involves a teen who is plagued by external criticism and negativity. The suicide is a means to punish, but it is not viewed as real. Those who have been guilty of hurting the teen are imagined as coming to his or her casket and weeping for forgiveness. The fantasy is one of the teen sitting up and saying, “Well don’t let it happen again.”

Parents can be mindful of hurtful words and negative comments. Keep the door open for communication on any topic. Think before you speak and love unconditionally.

Be aware that the teen years are beset with energy, choices and many fantasies and thoughts. Growing up, especially in this time, is no easy task.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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