How to Talk to Your Child About Suicide

Youth on cell phone

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate for youth aged 10–24 increased 62% from 2007 through 2021. Black youth and LGBTQ youth have been affected the most. What can concerned parents do? Learn how to talk to your child about suicide and seek help if needed.

Ask Directly

Don’t be afraid to ask your child directly if they are having thoughts of suicide. It won’t ‘put ideas into their head.’  In fact, asking about thoughts about suicide may reduce suicidal ideation. Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks them about it in a caring way. You can simply say, “Are you having thoughts of wanting to kill yourself?”  This is the first step in helping youth in crisis.

Secure Potentially Lethal Means

Another simple, effective thing families can do to prevent suicide is to lock up any objects that may be used as lethal weapons and make them inaccessible. This may include, but is not limited to guns, medications, and knives. Easy access to lethal means makes suicide more likely. Other factors that increase the risk of suicide include:

  • Substance use, hopelessness, loss, trauma, abuse, impulsivity, family history of suicide, certain mental health conditions, major physical illness, a previous suicide attempt, stigma related to asking for help, lack of social support, and lack of mental health care.

If you are concerned that your child may be having thoughts of suicide, it can help to learn the warning signs. Common warning signs include changes in behavior and/or verbalization of suicidal thoughts or hopelessness.

Seek Help If Needed

About a year ago, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline developed a national network of crisis centers. Anyone living in the United States, including concerned family or friends, can access the network 24/7. The easy-to-remember phone number ‘988’ connects you to the network which is free of charge. Other free crisis services include the Crisis Text Line and the Trevor Project (for LGBTQ youth). Know that your child does not need to be suicidal to use these crisis services. Crisis prevention lines help people in any stage of crisis.

It may help for you and your child to create a list of people or organizations they can contact if they need support. When youth talk to someone who listens to them in a non-judgmental way, they tend to feel more hopeful and less depressed. When your child is in distress, try to suspend judgment and validate your child’s feelings to ensure they feel heard and understood.

As a parent you may have many strong feelings if your child is in crisis. You may feel fear, guilt, overwhelm, frustration, and/or shame. This is completely natural. As much as possible, try to acknowledge and own your own feelings so you can be fully present and listen to your child. At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.

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