Studies estimate that 42 percent of female and 55 percent of male teens have at least once thought seriously about suicide. That is a terrifying statistic that needs to be understood and addressed by parents and educators across our country.

Many groups have worked to reduce teen suicides. One of the most effective is the Teens in Action program of the Camp Fire Boys and Girls. The National Mental Health Association cosponsors the suicide prevention work of Camp Fire teens in many communities in each state.

If there is no Camp Fire in your town, you can call your local mental health organization to learn what it is doing to prevent teen suicide and depression. You can volunteer your time, help raise money, become a teen peer support leader or even start a Teens in Action group.

Many people who have involved themselves in programs such as these have written to me despondent over losing a child to suicide despite counseling efforts. To those people I explain that no matter how hard you work at prevention, you will not be able to prevent all teen suicides. Some things are beyond control; just do your best at what you can do.

Let others know that changes in behavior and teen depression do not always indicate someone is suicidal, but if several of the following signs persist over time, the teen needs help:

Sleep, appetite and personality changes.
Behavioral outbursts or bizarre behavior.
Overwhelming sense of guilt or shame.
Fatigue, physical complaints, hopelessness or despair.
Obsessive fears, preoccupation with death.
Giving away treasured belongings.
Talking about suicide.

If someone you know appears suicidal, always take it seriously, be reassuring, listen without lecturing, ask him or her to seek help and tell someone who cares about the teen.

Whether you are a parent, a relative or a friend you can make a difference by providing support and most importantly, by providing a safe, non-judgmental haven of love and understanding.

Matters like these can eat away at parents and loved ones. I encourage you to seek out support groups for your own emotional outlet.