Suicide is not the first topic that comes to mind when talking to your children. But, it is a conversation that you still need to have with them, even if you think your child is happy, doing well in school, and does not appear to be struggling.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, and the second among college-aged students. Almost 20% of high school students think about suicide at some point during their teenage years. Kids are thinking about suicide, and unfortunately, too many are acting upon their thoughts.
Talking about suicide will not put the thought of suicide into someone’s mind, but it CAN let someone know that it is ok to ask for help. It CAN make someone aware that support is available. It CAN save a life. Talking about suicide may seem scary and like something you want to avoid, but it is a necessary conversation to have with your children. You want your children to have correct information about suicide, and know that it is okay to talk about it.
You may think your child is okay and you do not need to have this conversation, but this conversation is one that every parent should have with their child. Children and adolescents often hide their emotions and are afraid to admit they are depressed or have suicidal thoughts. They worry something is wrong with them, or that their parents will be angry or scared. But when you bring it up, you make it okay to talk about it. When kids do talk, they often tell their friends rather than a parent or other adult. They may ask their friends to keep it a secret. If you actively engage with your children, they will be more comfortable talking to you about themselves or their friends.
Young people often cannot see beyond the present. They do not know their options, and they feel their entire world is the current moment. They need to know there are choices and that things change. Talk to your children so they know that you are there for them, that there is help, that treatment works, and that suicide is never the answer.
Here are some tips for getting the conversation started:
- Timing: Pick the right time to talk. Find a time when you have your child’s complete attention—during dinner, in the car on the way to practice, or whenever works best for your family.
- Practice: Prepare for the conversation and know what you want to say ahead of time. Your child may question why you are having this conversation. Make sure to include information that suicide is permanent, that it is okay to ask for help, and that there is always hope. If they need a safe person to talk to, provide resources.
- Ask questions: Ask for their thoughts on suicide. Ask about their friends. “Have you ever thought about suicide? Have your friends ever talked about it?” Give them time to answer, and if they are not ready, let them know that you are there whenever they are.
- React appropriately: Do not overreact or underreact. If you overreact, they may not talk to you again. Let them know it is okay, and you are there for them. Ask if they want to talk to a mental health professional, and what you can do to help in that moment.
- Be honest: Be honest about your feelings. Let them know this is a difficult conversation for you too. Tell them anything they say is okay—you want them to feel safe talking to you. If something your child says is concerning, let them know you are worried, but you love them unconditionally. Tell them you need to think, and you want to talk about it later. You started the conversation and they know you are there for them. That is the first step.
Ensuring that your child knows you are there for them and that they know there are choices is crucial. If you want additional information on the warning signs for depression or suicide, you can find those here.
For immediate help for those in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 or Text HELLO to 741-741.
Tracy Greenberg has become a strong part of the Sheppard Pratt community. She is mother to Bryce, who attends The Frost School, part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. She gives her time as part of the Consumer Advisory Council, a group of family members, former patients, former students, and employees of the health system who are dedicated to improving our quality of care and enhancing recovery from mental illness and addiction. Follow along with Tracy through her blog.