- What are the signs of a mental health crisis?
- What are the signs of suicidality?
- How can I help my child manage their mental health and develop coping skills?
- What do I do if I think my child is suicidal?
Most teens don’t even think about, let alone attempt, suicide. Yet national suicide rates have been increasing over the past 10 years. Many teens who attempt or die from suicide do have a mental health condition, but most often this is not the sole factor. The stress that comes from being an adolescent combined with many of life’s challenges can make it hard for some young people to cope. Without the proper coping strategies, they may feel hopeless and turn to self-destructive behaviors as a solution.
Why It Matters
Mental health issues can be brought on by changes in social life, transitions in family life, stressful or unsafe conditions at home or school; discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, or exposure to violence and trauma. There are also psychological and personality characteristics that can make people vulnerable to mental illness, as well as biological factors, including genetics and chemical imbalances in the brain.
The following is a list of risk factors that are often connected to mental health challenges and mental illness, and suicidality:
- Violence and home, school, or work
- Verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Family history of suicide
- Easy access to lethal means like firearms, medications, poison, cars, and ropes
- Isolation due to living alone, living rurally, or feeling like no one understands you
- Changes like moving or transitioning to a different job or school
- Loss of a loved one or a significant relationship
- Poor health, mentally or physically
- Lack of social-emotional skills
- One or more prior suicide attempts
- Failure at work or school
- Unrealistic expectations of oneself or inability to accept failure
- Rejection by peers
- Harassment due to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity
- Bullying or being bullied at school/work
- Suicide of someone with whom they identify with or feel close to
- Substance abuse (which includes vaping and dabbing)
- Natural disaster
- Lack of support services
Take this brief survey to identify your child’s strengths and areas for further development in some key self-management skills.
Connect & Communicate:
Start the Conversation:
Open communication will be an important tool in supporting a teen you suspect may be suicidal. Remember that this is not a time to ask a lot of questions or suggest that your teen “will get over it.” Try to listen more and speak less. Following are ways that you can show you care, gather information and offer support:
The Steps Towards Helping a Suicidal Person
Show You Care
- Give the person your full attention.
- Be supportive and non-judgmental.
- Be honest and direct.
- Speak slowly and calmly.
- Be positive and reassuring.
- Acknowledge the person’s pain.
Ask About Suicidal Intent
- “Some people in your situation might not know what to do but there are healthy choices to deal with your pain.”
- “Are you thinking about suicide?”
- “Do you have thoughts of killing yourself?”
Offer to help but recognize your own limits. Do not be the only person offering or providing help.
- “You are not alone. Help is available.”
- “Who do you trust that you’d like to talk to?”
- “Let’s find someone together,”
- “Let’s call together and I’ll be right here with you.”
Help people understand that life in general and theirs, in particular, has purpose and meaning.
- “I’m sure there are other people who care about you.”
- “Let’s try to identify some of them.”
- “Perhaps it’s hard to see it right now, but you do have a place in the big picture.”
- “I can understand that you feel really bad right now, but there are other solutions that can help you feel better.”
How Should I Respond to Suicidal Behavior?
- Always offer hope
- Remain calm (even when feeling otherwise)
- Identify and seek available resources
- Understand that there are alternatives to suicide
- Get safely through the crisis
- Keep a suicidal person away from things they can use to harm themselves
- Leave a suicidal person alone
- Act shocked
- Interrupt or offer advice, or ask a lot of questions
- Minimize or discount the problem
- Argue about if suicide is right or wrong
- Try to forcefully remove a weapon
- Promise to keep a secret
- Offer solutions-other than resources
- Say anything that might cause shame or guilty feelings
Help Prevent Suicide
- Address issues of anxiety and depression
- Pay attention
- Discourage isolation
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle
- Support the treatment plan
- Find and maintain close, trustworthy friends
- Identify personal strengths and positive attributes and share those with your teen
- Help them learn to create a positive mindset and motivate positive actions
- Keep a list of people they can talk to when they are struggling
- Be substance-free. Substances interfere with a healthy brain and healthy decisions
Contact & Collaborate:
As a parent or caregiver, you have an important role in supporting your teen’s mental wellbeing. If you think your teen may have a mental health issue, reach out and get the support you need to help them feel better.
Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your teen’s development of self-management skills.
You will play an important role in ongoing support and monitoring of your teen’s mental health. Continue to learn and stay up-to-date on mental health topics. Be sure to take time for yourself when possible- your mental health and wellness will be important in helping your child/teen manage their mental wellbeing. You must put your Oxygen mask on before you can help others. Below are some additional resources you might find helpful.
- Mental Health.gov Parent and Caregivers page
- National Institute of Health Childen and Mental Health page
- National Alliance for Mental Illness Learning to Help Your Child and Your Family
- Helping parents talk to their child about multiple traumatic issues in a Healthy way:
- Child Mind Institute: childmind.org