September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an opportunity to raise suicide prevention awareness in our communities, schools and families. Many parents wonder how to address suicide with their teens. Some parents might worry that talking to their children about suicide might “put the idea of suicide in their head” and will increase the likelihood of them attempting suicide. The fact is, however, talking to teens about suicide does not increase suicidal behavior and can actually reduce the risk of suicide among teenagers (Gould et al, 2005). Just as parents would talk to their children about driving and texting, substance use and safe sex, parents should consider suicide a health and safety issue that needs to be discussed.
The statistics on suicide among young people are sobering. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. Furthermore, a nationwide survey of high school students in the United States found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. (CDC)
Here are some tips for talking to your teen about suicide:
Ask direct questions
“I have been hearing about suicide in the news and wanted to hear your thoughts. What do you think about suicide? What do your friends think? Have you ever thought about suicide? Have your friends?”
Listen without judgment
You want to let your child know that you are a safe person to talk to about suicide. With sensitive material, it’s natural for parents to become emotional, react and want to protect their children. Listening more and talking less will allow your child to open up to you.
Be honest if this is hard for you to talk about, “I understand that this might feel uncomfortable to talk about, but I think it’s important to know we can talk about hard things together.” If you are unsure of what to say, concerned about something they share or don’t know the answer to a question, you can be upfront about this too: “What you are saying is important and it is making me want to get some more information. I am going to find some resources for us to learn more about this.”
Make this the beginning of an ongoing conversation. “I am so glad we could start talking about this and we can come back to this again.” Come up with a specific plan together if your teen ever feels helpless or hopeless or if your teen is worried about a friend: “Who is a trusted adult you can go to if you need help?”
Share this resource with your teen so they can access help if they need it:
1-800-273-TALK for a lifeline or local referrals or text START to 741-741, a Crisis Text Line for referrals and crisis survival strategies.
References and Resources