Suicide is likely one of the top fears any parent has for their child. With mental health concerns like anxiety and depression being diagnosed in teens at rates higher than ever before, it makes sense that the issue of suicidal thoughts might be one you’ve worried about or dealt with already.
People are generally poorly equipped to deal with the topic of suicide. This is largely a consequence of our society’s longstanding attitude toward mental health issues as taboo or shameful. We’re doing better, but we have a long way to go in terms of educating folks of all ages on how to address mental health concerns within themselves and others. Parents often report feeling especially helpless when it comes to supporting their teens through mental health issues because they’re overwhelmed by a tangle of fear, worry, frustration, uncertainty, and often memories of their own bumpy teen years. As parents, we learn a lot about how to parent from those who parented us. If we went through a tough time in our teens and felt unsupported and alone, it can be really hard to be the steady one for our kids when the time comes. If your teen talks about suicide, here’s what to do:
1. Ask directly, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Have you thought about hurting yourself?” instead of using innuendo.
2. Take them seriously. Does it feel like they’re looking for attention? Spoiler alert: they are. If someone is feeling so terrible about their situation that they are considering ending their life, I believe they would want someone to notice. If someone notices and pays attention, they might not feel alone with their pain and they might get some help finding a way out of it. If I was hurting so much that I thought ending my life would be better than continuing in the pain, I would absolutely want someone to pay attention when I asked for help.
3. Teens often don’t know how to ask for help. They’re still figuring a lot of stuff out about themselves and the world around them, so even though they often look like adults, sound like adults, and think they’re adults, they aren’t. Teens still need parents to make the final call on matters that relate to their wellbeing, so if you notice signs that your teen is struggling, check in with them and enlist the help of a medical or mental health professional.
Blog Author -- Jodie Voth, RMFT
Jodie is a full-time therapist and owner of Voth Family Therapy. She enjoys working with teens and motivated adults who are working through transitions and relationship challenges.