April 15, 2019

Preventing Teen Suicide: Common Questions About How to Keep Teens Safe

It’s a difficult topic to think about—no one wants to believe that their child would consider suicide. Teens who have recently experienced the death of a loved one may be at increased risk for thoughts of suicide, particularly when impacted by other factors such as substance use, bullying or LGBTQ identity.

Here are some questions that parents and caregivers frequently ask about teen suicide risk, along with guidelines for helping to keep your teen safe.

Q: “If I bring up suicide, won’t that just put the idea into their head?”

A: It’s not possible to create suicidal urges simply by talking about it. In fact, communicating honestly with your child about their thoughts and feelings is one of the most important things you can do to protect them.

Q: “Is this just a way to get attention? Maybe my child is being dramatic.”

A: It’s important to treat any talk of suicide very seriously. Show your teen that their safety is your highest priority, and talk honestly with them about their suicidal thoughts. A “cry for help” should be addressed with the same urgency as a life-threatening physical illness.

Q: “Does suicide just happen out of the blue?”

A: There are often warning signs for suicide, but they may be subtle. A teen who is considering suicide may make statements about being a burden, such as “Everyone would be better off without me.” They may show abrupt changes in mood, such as anxiety or agitation, or begin to engage in reckless behavior. A detailed list of warning signs for youth suicide can be found at this link: http://jasonfoundation.com/youth-suicide/warning-signs/

Talking with Your Teen about Suicidal Thoughts

The best time to approach this topic is before you have specific concerns. Let your teen know that it’s always okay to discuss thoughts and feelings, even ones that are negative or frightening. Bring up recent news stories that involve suicide and give your teen an opportunity to express their reactions. For some teens, communicating with you through text messages might feel less threatening.

You can also provide other resources. Some families post emergency numbers, such as 1-800-273-TALK (8225) or the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741), in their home as a reminder for teens to reach out if they are in crisis.

If you wonder whether your teen is at risk, it’s best to be direct: “I’m really concerned right now. Have you been having thoughts about suicide?” Any suicidal thoughts or plan should be evaluated immediately at the nearest emergency room or emergency mental health clinic.

It’s normal to feel nervous about discussing these risks, but a teen’s safety is certainly worth broaching an uncomfortable conversation.

Ask a Kids Path Counselor

Kids Path offers no-cost phone consultations with licensed counselors, available to anyone who is grieving a loss or coping with the impact of serious illness. If you have questions about how to best support your child or teen through grief, call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with a counselor.