As parents, our one hope is that our kids grow up happy and healthy. But, many kids and teens struggle with their mental health. In fact, in 2021, there were an estimated 1.7 million suicide attempts according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And, nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts about suicide and 9% report a suicide attempt during the prior year, according to NAMI.
One way to help kids and teens with their mental health is to simply talk about it – don’t be afraid to ask. If you’re concerned, don’t delay in starting the conversation. Below, Children’s Minnesota psychologists are sharing tips for how to prepare for the conversation, have the conversation and to be prepared with outside resources.
Don’t be afraid to ask about suicide
Many parents wonder: How can I start the conversation about suicide? Will it make things worse? But, the fact of the matter is, asking about suicidal thoughts, behaviors and/or the stressors that may be present will not escalate present concerns or cause a suicide attempt.
We encourage you to create a safe space for conversation starters with your kids and teens about suicide.
Get ready for the conversation
To get ready for the conversation with your child, remember to stay calm and listen. Also, be prepared with resources if their response is ‘yes’, but also if their response is ‘no.’
If they say ‘no’, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling since you noted their behavior changes. Here’s how:
- Support their coping.
- Ask what helps them feel better.
- Remain vigilant.
- Continue to check in on a regular basis.
Start with an observation.
Start with something you’ve observed and add in a direct question of well-being, for example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been [insert concerned behavior here] lately. How have you been feeling lately?” This highlights that you are not asking ‘out of the blue’ but have been noticing signs that are concerning to you.
Then, make sure to take note of ‘conversation-enders’. If your child or teen is dismissing your concerns without openness to communication, continue to monitor and find moments where they seem more open to having a discussion.
Avoid judgmental comments.
During this conversation with your child or teen, we recommend avoiding saying comments like this:
- Get over it.
- Others have it worse.
- Stop trying to get attention.
- Suicide is selfish.
- Why didn’t you tell me sooner?
- I know how you feel.
The last two comments, although well-intentioned, could be harmful in making them about you and not how difficult this is for your child.
Ask directly about suicide.
Sometimes when people feel very stressed, alone, tired, sad or whatever feeling or behavior you are perceiving your child is experiencing, they could be thinking about suicide. So, try asking them directly, “Have you been thinking about suicide?” or, “Are you thinking of ways to end your life?”
Listen and express concern.
Make sure you stay calm as you listen to what your child or teen says. Also, it’s OK to express concern. For example, say, “I’m deeply concerned for you and want to work together to make a plan to keep you safe and find you the help you need.”
Reassure they can trust you with anything shared.
Remind your child or teen that they can trust you with anything they have shared or will share with you now or in the future.
We also recommend reassuring them that they will not feel like this forever and that help is available.
How to spot the warning signs of suicide
The mental health crisis among our kids and teens continues to be a big concern, explains Dr. Sara Gonzalez, a child psychologist from Children’s Minnesota, on WCCO.
- Take the person to the nearest emergency room, where they will receive a full suicide assessment and receive needed care. If the person is hesitant to receive emergency health care, call 9-1-1.
- Contact the mobile crisis unit for your county.
- If the person you know has a mental health professional that they see, help them schedule an urgent appointment. If they do not have an existing connection with a mental health professional, help them make an urgent appointment with their family physician.
- Call or text 9-8-8 or call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and follow their guidance. You can also visit their website for further information.
- Use a Crisis Text Line. This is a free 24/7 support line. Text “HOME” to 741-741 at any time, about any type of crisis. Learn more online at crisistextline.org.
- The JED Foundation has additional resources available online: https://www.jedfoundation.org/.
- Trans Lifeline: Call 1-877-565-8860.
- The Trevor Project (LGBTQ+) Helpline: Call 1-866-4UTREVOR (1-866-488-7386), chat online, or text START to 678-678.