Suicide is and has been for the last decade, the second leading cause of death for adolescents in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2007 and 2018, the national suicide rate for people ages 10-24 increased by 57%, with no indication of slowing down. Despite this concerning increase, the reasons as to why suicide occurs are often not well understood, leaving family and friends wondering what could have been done differently.
Tips To Help Your Child if There Is a Concern About Suicidal Thoughts or Actions
- Model healthy mental health habits.
Being open about when you are struggling (not needing to be too specific on what you are dealing with if it’s unsuitable for the child) and seeking guidance and support as you would for physical concerns can help model a family culture of effectively treating mental health concerns together. Children often re-enact how they observe their parents approaching and reacting to problems. If you can model that addressing mental health struggles together and using support is important and necessary, you can help teach them these skills and create open communication for when they may be struggling.
- Provide support early.
If you notice your child feeling increased anxiety or depression, this can often be magnified by any number of life circumstances. Suicide is often seen as an escape when things feel too big or overwhelming to deal with. Let them know right away that you are there for support and help them find other healthy supports as soon as you can. Intervening early can help keep struggles manageable.
- Check-in regularly.
Foster communication about deeper topics like their feelings about different events, perspectives on life, etc. Don’t get stuck in talking only about everyday tasks such as chores or homework. Create intentional time to frequently check in on hopes, fears, and concerns. Do this more often when life circumstances arise that are naturally difficult times, for example, the death of someone they are close to or the ending of a relationship.
- Keep a safe environment.
If a crisis begins and there are firearms within the home, ensure they are secure or temporarily move them out of the home until the crisis passes. A large majority (more than half) of all completed suicides within the U.S. are via firearm. Keeping quick and lethal means out of reach can provide you more time as a parent to intervene and support your child.
- Be accepting.
Many teens with recurring suicidal thoughts report that they feel disconnected from friends, peers, and family members. They also communicate that a major component of this is feeling misunderstood or not accepted for who they are. Promoting a family environment of acceptance and facilitating healthy connections can help your child feel more confident, loved, and safe – and is paramount to decreasing suicidal behavior. Show your child that they matter and help them foster healthy friendships and relationships by providing opportunities to hang out with friends, get involved at school or in the community, or enjoy special activities with family members.
If this is an emergency situation and you or someone you know is in need of immediate help please do not hesitate to contact one of the following resources:
- National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Crisis Text Line: Call 1-800-950-NAMI
- Text "START" to 741741 any time
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 9-8-8 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
This blog article was contributed by Matthew Talmadge, Senior Therapist at Nexus-Gerard Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.