- 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. These challenges include depression, anxiety disorders, suicide, and more. His tips can help if you’re worried your child or teen may be suicidal:
1) Validate their pain.
If your teenager tells you they have suicidal thoughts, it’s important to validate their emotional pain and show 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 there to help.
Assure your child that you will help them figure this out; that you’ll always support them; and that together you will resolve whatever is going on so they don’t have to feel this way any longer. Make it clear that suicide is a maladaptive irreversible solution to whatever the problem is and that you are confident your child will be able to feel better soon once they’ve shared this information and asked for help.
3) Explain the need to get a professional involved.
Let your child 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 to best help them.
4) Arrange an appointment.
If your teen is able to commit to safety, to not act impulsively or 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 and other weapons if there is any concern about a teenager having suicidal urges. Keep in mind that 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 988. 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.