Why Talk about Suicide with your Teen?
Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss, but being able to talk openly about it is beneficial. Discussing it with teens and children may be even more difficult, but it is something they need to know about. And more importantly, they need to know that they can come to you should they ever experience depression, sadness, or suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people in America. Only accidents and homicides claim more lives each year. It’s hard imagining suicide impacting your family or circle of friends, but it’s more likely to happen than not. That’s why a frank and open discussion about suicide prevention may help save the life of a loved one.
Tips to facilitate a conversation:
Know the Warning Signs
Before discussing suicide and prevention with a teenager, it is important that you have an understanding of the topic yourself. Knowing the warning signs of suicide is a major preventative step. These signs may include:
Changes in mood: Feelings of hopelessness, worry, anxiety, anger, or worthlessness;
Changes in behavior: Withdrawal from normal activities, changes in sleep patterns or eating habits, or change in friend group;
Threatening or attempting self-harm: Talking about or wishing for death, researching ways to die, giving away belongings, cutting, or obtaining a weapon;
Situational triggers: Including death of a loved one, stress, humiliation, a break up, or getting in trouble.
Know the Risk Factors
To properly convey the message of suicide prevention to a teenager, you must first understand the weight of the matter and the risk. Understand that suicide can happen in any family and can be just as likely as other teen behaviors such as underage drinking. In fact, the risk is more imminent when you consider other contributing issues teens may be facing (sexuality, bullying, gender identity, drug use, and so on).
Have a Plan
It is often helpful to plan out the discussion before addressing it with your teenager. Knowing what you want to say can make the transition to an open discussion much easier. However, you don’t have to stick to a rigid outline; your teen should help guide the conversation.
Pick a Time to Talk
- during a car ride;
- when you hear or see something about suicide on TV;
- when a suicide occurs in your community.
Be Honest and Direct
It is okay to admit that suicide can be difficult to discuss. Talking about your feelings on the subject will help your child open up as well. If your teen still has a hard time speaking about it, feel free to ask them direct questions, such as:
- “Have any of your friends dealt with suicide?”
- “Do you know anyone who has ever made a suicide attempt?”
- “Do you ever have any feelings of anxiety?”
Let your teen know that you are always there for love and support. Let them know that they can come to you anytime, regardless of what they’re going through. Inform your teen that there are a number of other resources they can turn to as well, including:
- school officials, teachers, or guidance counselors,
- close relatives,
- doctors and nurses,
Be an Active Listener
Be sure to listen to your teen and respond appropriately. If you overeact, they may not come back to you in a time of need. If you underreact, your teen may not think that you care. Respond meaningfully, thoughtfully, and truthfully.
Take Further Action if Necessary
If your teen expresses or shows any of the warning signs, be sure to address this with a certified counselor or another mental health professional. Additionally, you should check in with your teen over time to ensure that they remain on the path to a happy, healthy life.
By Steve Johnson
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