As children grow into pre-teens and teenagers, it becomes more challenging for parents to know what they are thinking and feeling. When do the normal ups and downs of adolescence become something to worry about? Below are steps you can use to help prevent suicide in children.
1. If you see signs that your child’s mental health is under threat, tune in.
Maybe your child is just having a bad day, but when signs of mental health troubles last for weeks, don’t assume it’s just a passing mood. Many teens who attempt suicide do not have underlying mental health issues, but in most cases, they will give signs that they’re considering ending their own lives.
2. Listen—even when your child is not talking.
Don’t be surprised if your teen turns away when you first raise the subject of mental health or suicide. Watch for major changes in your child’s sleep patterns, appetite, and social activities. Self-isolation, especially for kids who usually enjoy hanging out with friends or playing sports, can signal serious difficulties. If your child is struggling more than usual with schoolwork, chores, and other responsibilities, these are additional signs you shouldn’t ignore.
3. Try not to dismiss what you see as “teenage drama.”
Never assume your child is exaggerating or playing games if they say or write:
- “I want to die.”
- “Nothing matters.”
- “I wonder how many people would come to my funeral?”
- “Everyone would be better off without me.”
- “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”
4. Respond with empathy and understanding.
When your child talks or writes about suicide, you may feel shocked, hurt, or angry. Your goal is to create a safe space where your teen can trust you to listen and express concern without judgment or blame. Regardless of what your child says, if you notice signs of depression for more than two weeks, talk with your child’s doctor.
5. Remove or secure the guns you have at home. Do the same with other lethal tools and substances, such as:
- Dangerous drugs/medications
- Household cleaners and other poisonous products
- Knives, razors, or other weapons
- Ropes, belts, or plastic bags
What if my teen is having thoughts of suicide?
Suicidal thoughts or actions should NEVER be ignored. If your teen is in crisis right now, call The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or text ‘TALK” to 741741. Trained lifeline staff will help you figure out immediate steps to protect your child.
Ask your teen’s care team for other resources you should know about. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has great information.