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How Do I Talk to My Child About Suicide?

Suicide is a topic that is extremely difficult to approach with a child of any age. When a child asks about suicide due to something on TV or hearing about it at school, this is troubling. When your child is the one experiencing suicidal thoughts, that is even more difficult. There is no easy way to bring up the subject of suicide with your child, but there are some helpful strategies that can help them understand. 

What Is Suicide? 

Some children may need clarification about what exactly suicide is. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) carries the definition that says, “Suicide is when people harm themselves with the goal of ending their life, and they die as a result. A suicide attempt is when people harm themselves with the goal of ending their life, but they do not die.” 

The NIMH also clarifies that terms such as “committed suicide,” “successful suicide,” and “failed suicide” are harmful in their intent. “Committed” suggests committed a crime. “Successful” suggests suicide in any form is positive. “Failed” suggests that the person has yet again failed. Avoiding this language with your child will prove useful, so they do not repeat harmful language to others. 

Who Is at Risk for Suicide? 

Some children may not understand why anyone would attempt to harm themselves, and that is okay. They may ask who is at risk in different ways, but ultimately they are wondering what could lead a person to harm themselves. Those at risk for suicide include:

  • Those with a history of suicide or who have attempted before
  • Those with substance abuse issues
  • Those with chronic pain
  • Those with anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders
  • Those who have suffered domestic violence, trauma, physical abuse, or sexual abuse
  • Those who have recently been incarcerated and released
  • Those with firearms in the home 
  • Those with exposure to other suicidal behaviors, such as a family member or close friend 

You do not need to read this exact list to them, as children at any age can ask. Generally, children will have more questions about certain behaviors that their friends have. 

For example, a teen who knows their friend participates in self-harm may have questions about that and their friend’s risk. Make sure your child knows to tell you or another adult if they ever see something out of the ordinary that is putting another child at risk. 

If It’s Your Child at Risk

Your child loves you, and you can help them love themselves, too. Teen suicide risk is scary and traumatic, and cases of it have been rising for the past several years. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Teens who are at risk may be experiencing mental health issues, trauma, violence, stressful life events, or stressful social issues with friends or at school. 

Pearson, a doctor with News In Health, points out that teens do not have the life experience to know that they will eventually get through this period in their lives, and that time will heal what is happening now. When adults dismiss children’s worries by saying things like “you’ll get through it,” children are less inclined to feel heard or validated. They may feel instead that they would be better off no longer living. 

If your child has been saying things that sound suicidal, they are important, they are intentional, and they mean it. Do not take suicidal talk lightly. Some other warning signs of suicidal behavior in teens include talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or trapped, having addiction issues, and being in unbearable pain. 

How to Help

Start with a conversation with your teen. Sit them down someplace safe and comfortable, and prepare them for a talk by saying you love them, and that you have some concerns you want to share with them. They may be stoic, defensive, or tell you right away what they are feeling. Tell them about the behaviors you are noticing and why they are concerning to you. 

Let them speak when they need to, and tell them that no matter what you are going to love them through it. Assure them that you will be by their side and love them enough to keep them safe, so changes in the family may be necessary to do so. The first change that should be made is having your teen talk to a mental health specialist. 

Taking teens to therapy is crucial. Teens should also be treated for any co-occurring mental health disorders, and a routine should be established. There should also be a safety plan in place within the home and for when they leave to ensure the teen cannot harm themselves. Doing so can help to give your teen the necessary tools to cope with life’s stressors.

It’s extremely difficult to talk to a child about suicide and mental health. It’s worse when your child is suicidal and you feel powerless to help them. Your child may be struggling with mental health disorders, addiction, and suicidal thoughts, but there is help. You’re not alone in your attempt to help your child live a healthy and happy life. At RECO Intensive, we understand that those who contemplate suicide need intensive therapy, coping skills, and tender loving care. Our professional staff and experienced alumni can help you and your child create a treatment plan catered to your needs. We also offer multiple forms of therapy, including individual therapy, family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and more. We want to help you and your child heal so you can all live a happy life with good coping strategies and treatment for mental health. Call us today at (561) 464-6533 so we can help you. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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