Talking to Your Child About Suicide

Teen suicide rates have steadily increased over the past two decades, and data from the 2021 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that about 22% of teens reported having suicidal thoughts and 10% of Teenagers reported doing something to try to end their life. in the last 12 months. Since many teens have suicidal thoughts, it is important for parents and caregivers to know how to talk to their children about their mental health.

Ask your child directly

Parents often worry about saying the right thing or think that directly asking their child about suicide will cause them to start having those thoughts. The good news is that asking your child if she has thoughts of suicide or self-harm won’t trigger those ideas, but it does give you the opportunity to share if she has those thoughts with you and get support if they need it. If you are concerned that your child is thinking about suicide, ask him or her directly. Research shows that asking directly increases the likelihood of disclosure, and if you don’t ask, or don’t ask directly, teens may not share. Asking your child about suicide and self-harm shows them that you care and are here to help.

Some examples of how to start the conversation:

  • Have you ever thought about committing suicide or doing something that would hurt you?
  • Sometimes when people feel sad or overwhelmed, they have thoughts of hurting themselves or not wanting to be alive. Has it ever happened to you?
  • I’ve noticed that you seem more depressed lately. Have you been thinking about doing something to end your life or hurt yourself?

Validate your child’s experience

Many adolescents experience suicidal thoughts and engage in self-destructive behaviors. It is important for teens to know that they are not alone and that their feelings are valid. This means acknowledging what your child thinks and feels without immediately trying to change it or dismiss it. Start by listening without judgment, believing them, and taking what they say seriously. Let them know you’re glad they shared with you. Let them know that you care.

Plan to talk to your child when you have time to have a full conversation and when you feel emotionally ready to do so. Stay curious and try not to make assumptions. Be aware of his tone and phrasing, and practice reflecting on what you hear from your child. Starting a conversation by acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings is a great way to build a safe, trusting relationship with him that can make it easier for him to share with you in the future.

Keep your home safe

One of the most important ways to keep a child safe when they are actively thinking about suicide is to make the environment around them safe by eliminating access to things they could use to hurt themselves. If your child is thinking about suicide or you are worried that she may be in danger, it is important to talk to a professional (see below). In the meantime, some common recommendations for making your home safer include safely storing medications or other toxic chemicals, eliminating access to sharp objects, and removing firearms from the house (or at least making sure they are stored safely. safe way).

Take care of yourself

It is normal for parents to have strong emotional reactions when they learn that their child is having suicidal thoughts or has self-harmed. Taking time to monitor your own feelings and reactions will help you better support your child. Give yourself space to process your own thoughts and feelings, get support from loved ones, and take time to do things that help you feel relaxed and fulfilled. You may also find it helpful to get support from a professional, in addition to getting support for your child.

Seek professional support

If your child is struggling with suicide or self-harm, a professional can help. Evidence-based therapies such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for suicide prevention are effective. These therapies focus on teaching adolescents and families skills to cope with stress and strong negative emotions to reduce the risk of suicide and self-harm.

If you need help right now, you can:

  • Call 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Go to your nearest emergency department for evaluation and resources.

Read more about the warning signs of suicide.

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