fbpx A Responder's Perspective on Suicide Prevention
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on September 8, 2022

As a family responder, working with youth who struggle with suicidality (deliberately hurting oneself with an intent to die) is a routine part of my job. I rely on my education, trainings, and past experiences to help families navigate through these situations. Parents are often not provided with the same skill set as mental health professionals, yet they are the “first responders” when it comes to their child’s mental health. In my years working with suicidal youth and their families, I’ve noticed trends in the information I share with parents. The following three pieces cover notions I most frequently review with parents of suicidal youth. 

1. Suicidality Is a Spectrum

Levels of suicidal ideation (thoughts about or plans of suicide) vary between and within individuals. Not everyone experiences suicidality the same way and levels are subject to change. One key distinction to make is the difference between passive and active suicidal ideation. 

Passive suicidal ideation refers to those who no longer wish to be alive, but do not have intentions to go out of their way to attempt suicide. A thought such as “I’m not going to kill myself, but it would be okay if I died in a car accident” would be considered passive suicidal ideation. 

Active suicidal ideation refers to those who intend on killing themselves and are taking steps to do so. Individuals who are actively suicidal may verbalize a plan of suicide and make statements such as “I am going to kill myself by overdosing.” Immediate steps for safety need to be taken for those who are actively suicidal. It is important to note that individuals can switch between passive and active ideation. Active ideation is almost never permanent, and with proper intervention, full recovery is possible.

2. There Are Options Outside of Immediately Hospitalizing Those Who Are Suicidal

When parents first learn that their child is having thoughts of suicide, a frequent immediate response is to bring their child to the hospital. Unless a child is actively attempting suicide or is in immediate danger, there are options to safely keep a child at home. Connecting with a crisis line can help guide parents through the process of planning for safety. These safety plans aim to keep the youth safe by removing access to potential means of suicide and thoughtful planning of supervision. A proper safety plan gives the youth and family clear direction in the next steps to take and helps keep everyone feeling safe and secure.

3. Healing Is Not a Linear Path

In a perfect world, recovery from suicidality would continuously move onward. Unfortunately, healing takes steps forward and steps back. Finding professional support can be challenging. Implementing the right interventions or medication is often trial and error. Rebuilding family trust and strength is arguably the most difficult mission of all. Remember that just because you are not progressing how you expected does not mean that you are not progressing at all. Healing takes time. 

While recovery is difficult, it can be done. Suicidality is a spectrum, not a death sentence.

This blog post was written by Ashley Andersen, Family Responder for Nexus-FACTS.

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 servicesfoster 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.