READ THIS FIRST! If you think your teen is suicidal, either call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) in the US.
If this isn’t an emergency, then chances are you’ve seen some behaviors that are out of character for your child. Perhaps your teen has been giving away possessions, having mood swings, or mentioning suicide casually. They might be using drugs or alcohol with increasing frequency or changing their eating and sleeping habits. There are many symptoms, but trust your instincts. If you sense something is not right, then it is time to engage with your child and listen to them.
Numerous life events put teens at risk. Everyday experiences such as rejection, failure, breakups, loss of friends and family members, or even conflict with friends or family members can be traumatic. Other factors can include becoming pregnant or having a sexually transmitted disease, learning of a loved one’s recent suicide, or challenges with depression, bullying, or drugs. A history of physical or sexual abuse, being adopted, a family history of suicidal behavior or mood disorders, or being uncertain of sexual orientation all are risk factors.
What Can You Do?
Reassure your teen you love them. It is good to regularly tell your teen that you are there for them and that you are interested in their life. Loving your teen every day is a boost to their mental health and self-esteem. The challenge is that as adults we get in the habit of doing all the necessary chores that need to get done to support a household, and niceties like explicitly telling your teen you love them get dropped somewhere along the way. Find a way to bring it back as a regular habit.
If your child seems anxious or upset, talk to them. Take your time to overcome your child’s reluctance to engage in discussion about topics they find embarrassing. You might also have to assure them that you will not tell other people (like siblings or your friends) their secrets, overreact when they talk about the choices they made, or punish them.
Tell them you are there because you love them and that you want to make sure they are safe and have the help they need. Be sincere about your concerns. Talking directly about your concerns can lead to crucial conversations that teens are afraid to bring up themselves.
Listen without Dismissing Their Feelings
We often think kids are being overly dramatic, but if you’re concerned about your teen’s wellfare then take their reactions seriously. As adults, we have built a toolset for dealing with hurt feelings and public humiliations, but your teen does not yet have a way to cope. It is not the time to lecture them about how they should have dealt with their feelings.
Avoid using dismissive language, including:
- “You are just being moody.”
- “You have it so easy.”
- “You don’t even know what love is yet.”
- “It is just a phase.”
Instead, try to get your teen to describe the details of how they have been feeling and why.
Reassure your teenager that you are interested and want to understand them. As they talk through their experiences, they will examine the interactions they had again and perhaps have new insights.
Let them know you are willing to work with them through any challenges, and that you are eager to help them. Remind them how much a priority their wellbeing is to you.
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
Keep your teen socially involved. Avoid isolation. Exercise improves mood and mental health, increases the quality of sleep, and improves self-esteem. Being socially active improves relationships and relationships offer support and reduce stress.
Seek Medical Help if Necessary
Most people are ill-equipped to handle these kinds of situations. You don’t have to — and shouldn’t — deal with this on your own. And, there is no shame in seeking help if it means your child can heal.
A therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist can help you navigate any real issues and get to the core of what’s going on. They can help evaluate mental health disorders and help your teen feel better. Psychologists address behavioral issues while psychiatrists help with medical interventions.
Support the treatment plan. When a doctor presents a treatment, follow up with your teen to make sure they are on board and following the treatment plan. Tell them that it might take a while to feel better. Medication or therapy takes time to lead to results.
Safely Store Away Guns, Medications, Alcohol & Drugs
Suicide is preventable, and almost all teens recover from suicidal thoughts with treatment.
Relapse is possible after recovery and happens almost in half of all teens. For this reason, careful monitoring of your teen in an ongoing process. The Mayo Clinic has lots of valuable information on Suicide Prevention and teens.
Suicide Prevention Resources
Do you know a teen who needs help right now? Encourage them to call someone.
- Suicide Prevention Hotline — 800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project — 866-488-7386 (LGBTQ+ issues)