Sometimes it’s hard to be a parent.
While you can muddle your way through a lot of the challenging issues your kids present, addressing self-destructive or suicidal behavior is generally not one of them. Yet, these situations are an unfortunate reality in the lives of youth today
So how do you recognize that your child may be at risk for suicide?
It starts by acknowledging that suicide is a reality for today’s youth – even those that come from good homes. It is not about parenting skills – at its simplest, it is a sign that a child is in a vulnerable place. Young people who are thinking clearly do not think about suicide as a solution to life problems.
The next step is to pay attention to your child’s behavior. Are you noticing any changes in behavior?
For example, students who were active may become withdrawn, quit athletic teams or social clubs, stop paying attention to their personal appearance, daydream, or even fall asleep in the classroom. Have you heard any threats? Were there any situations that could serve as triggers, such as getting into trouble at home, in school, or with legal authorities or relationship problems? Click here to download a detailed PDF of this page and learn the FACTS about warning signs.
If you notice any warning signs – or FACTS – what do you do?
Take your observations seriously – even if your child is not thinking about suicide, there is no harm in asking. Research has proven that asking about suicide cannot plant the idea in someone’s mind. It can actually be a relief if the person has been keeping suicidal thoughts secret – it exposes them to the light of day and begins the process of getting help.
How do you bring up the subject?
Directly! Say something like: “You haven’t been yourself lately. I’ve noticed some things that concern me.”
At this point, mention those changes you noticed, then follow up with a statement like: “I’ve heard that sometimes when kids act the way you do, they may think life isn’t worth living anymore. Have you ever thought about taking your life?”
LISTEN to the answer!
If your child responds affirmatively, ask them to tell you more:
- When they think about suicide
- How often they think about it
- If they have a plan or have practiced it
Positive answers to these questions, especially the last one, mean you need to get your child help immediately! It is also important that you immediately remove all the things in your house that could be deadly, especially firearms and medication (both prescription and over the counter drugs). Keep them somewhere else (outside the home) until you are sure the risk of suicide has passed.
Finally, consider counseling for your child.
Your family doctor may be a good starting point for finding a mental health provider who works with children and youth, but do not wait. Make sure your doctor understands the concern is about suicide risk. If you are worried that your child is at immediate risk of self-harm, call your local mental health crisis support team, or go to your local emergency department.
Not certain what to do?
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a resource that you can call to talk to someone who is knowledgeable about how to help when suicide is the issue. You do not have to identify who you are to get help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “Got5” to 741-741 to reach the 24/7 Crisis Text Line.
Resources for Parents