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Talking to Your Teen About Suicide

Talking to Your Teen About Suicide

By Amanda Smith, LCSW

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so there’s no better time than now to talk about teen suicide. As a Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor, I have supported many parents, teachers, and community members in learning the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to address these concerns with their teens. In many of my classes, there is often a general sense of discomfort when we hear the word “suicide.” It’s a scary word, and, by nature, we tend to avoid scary things. While it’s true that the act of suicide can be very scary, talking about it doesn’t have to be. 

 

It’s Okay to Talk About Suicide

Before discussing suicide with our teens, we need to get comfortable with the topic. There’s a misconception out there that talking about suicide makes people kill themselves, but that’s not the case. Talking openly about suicide reduces the stigma and allows others to know that it is okay to tell people how they feel. Saying the word “suicide” doesn’t put the idea in someone’s head, but it helps people with thoughts about suicide feel better about sharing and reaching out for help. 

Think about how we talk about other health conditions. Talking about “diabetes” does not make people develop diabetes; it’s quite the opposite. Talking about health conditions brings awareness to signs, symptoms, and preventative measures. Why would discussing our mental health be any different? The more we can approach suicide awareness as a healthy preventive measure, the easier it will be to talk about it with your teen. 

Getting The Conversation Started 

Parents often fear having to talk about suicide with their teens. It’s usually something that doesn’t come up until it comes up. In many ways, suicide education has thus far been a predominately reactionary response. We don’t talk about suicide until someone starts actually  talking about suicide and it’s hard to address anything in the middle of a crisis. Tackling it head-on as a prevention measure can make it much easier to plan, prepare, and facilitate the conversation.

 It’s normal for teenagers to experience heightened emotions from time to time. As we grow and develop, we go through various physical, emotional, cognitive, and social changes. Our minds have to adjust just as much as our bodies do. In typical adolescent development, most teens will experience significant mood swings from time to time. They need to know that this is a normal part of growth and development. 

 

Talking about suicide from an awareness and prevention perspective makes it okay for them to bring it up. Many teens are hesitant to tell someone that they are having suicidal thoughts because they fear being called “crazy” or are afraid of getting into trouble. They need to know that it is okay to tell someone how they feel and know where to get help. 

 

Teaching The Power of Suicide Awareness and Prevention 

When proactively talking to your teen about suicide, it’s best to focus on awareness and prevention. It may be helpful to approach the topic from a broader perspective, helping your teen understand how suicide affects all teens their age. Taking this approach can help lighten the content and empower them to advocate for their peers and other teens in their lives. Many suicidal teens will reach out to their peers first, so teaching them how to deal with this scenario can be very beneficial. 

Teens need to know who they can go to when they are in a crisis. Sometimes teens do not feel comfortable going to their parents, so they need to understand how to access other potential resources. School can be a great place to start. Teens spend most of their day in school and often develop strong supportive relationships with their teachers and other school staff. Schools have policies and procedures in place for handling these situations, and most schools have multiple counselors or social workers on site who can help assess and address the threat of suicide or harm. More and more schools are also taking additional steps to have all of their staff trained in programs such as Youth Mental Health First Aid. 

 

Talking to a school counselor or social worker can be scary for teens. Many students come to the counseling office seeking help for a friend who was scared to reach out. These students tend to be aware of the signs and symptoms of suicide and know where to get help. Talking to your teen about suicide and where to go for support will help prepare them to handle any potential crisis that they or their peers may experience. 

Tips For Talking to Your Teen About Suicide

  1. Don’t be afraid to be proactive- focus on awareness and prevention.
  2. Remember, talking openly about suicide makes it okay for them to speak openly about suicide.
  3. Talk to your teens about the signs and symptoms of suicide.
  4. Teach them where to go for help.
  5. Educate yourself about local school and county policies and procedures for addressing suicide and share this information with your teens.
  6. Encourage your teen to share this with others that may need support.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts and need help right away, here are a few resources:

.Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the mobile crisis line at 1-877-685-2415

.If you are Transgender you can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860