- If your teen confides in you about suicidal thoughts or feelings, validate their emotional pain, show that you take them seriously, and ask them important (yet non-threatening) questions about it.
- You should also assure them that you’re on their side—let them know you support them and you’ll make it through this together.
- Explain that you need to get a professional involved since any and all suicidal thoughts or feelings must be taken seriously and you aren’t an expert on the matter.
- Once you’ve discussed getting professional help with your teen and you’re sure you don’t have to worry about any negative reactions, set up an appointment.
- Finally, take further preventative action like blocking access to weapons they could use to harm themselves.
Dr. Alec Miller, Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Cognitive & Behavioral Consultants in Westchester and Manhattan, provides evidence-based treatment programs to address a wide range of emotional, behavioral, lifestyle management and personal development issues for individuals, parents and teens including depression, anxiety disorders, suicide and more. Here are his tips for if you’re worried your child or teen may be suicidal:
1) Validate their pain.
If your teenager tells you she (or he) has suicidal thoughts, it’s important to validate her emotional pain and that you take them seriously. Even though nearly 1 in 5 teens has seriously considered suicide in the past year, parents should invite conversation in a gentle, non-threatening way and ask:
- How long have you been thinking about it?
- Is there a specific trigger?
- Have you actually attempted to hurt yourself before?
- Do you have a specific plan to do something now?
2) Assure them that you’re here to help.
Assure here that you will help her figure this out, support her, and resolve whatever is going on so she doesn’t have to feel this way any further. To make clear that suicide is a maladaptive irreversible solution to whatever the problem is and that you are confident, she will be able to feel better soon now that she’s shared this information and asked for help.
3) Explain the need to get a professional involved.
Let her know that while many teens have passing thoughts like this, they can be distressing, and since you’re not a mental health professional, you’d like her to speak to someone who can better evaluate what is going on and how best to help her.
4) Arrange an appointment.
If the teen is able to commit to safety, to not act impulsively and engage in suicidal behavior, then the parent should arrange an appointment with a mental health professional as soon as possible. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is the recommended evidence-based therapy for suicidal youth. If the child is not able to say with conviction that he or she is able to maintain safety, then an immediate evaluation in an emergency room is indicated. When in doubt, have your teen evaluated in your nearest emergency room.
5) Take further preventative action.
During and even up to at least 12 weeks following a suicidal crisis, parents should remove access to firearms if there is any concern about a teenager having suicidal urges since the risk of suicide increases five-fold when there is access.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, get off this site and call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Regardless of the time or day, someone will answer your call and get you the help that you need. You can find a list of other helpful resources here.