Fact: most teens who make a suicide attempt don’t really want to die. Instead, they’re looking for a way to stop deep, emotional pain and they just don’t know how. But here’s another fact: research shows us that when someone suicidal is directly asked if they’re thinking about ending their life, most people feel relieved that someone started the conversation.
Sadly, there’s a real stigma around suicide, especially teen suicide, and it can feel like a topic that shouldn’t be talked about. But the thing is, doing just that can actually prevent suicide. If there is a teen in your life who you think might be at risk for suicide, a simple conversation with them could save their life.
We hope these teen suicide prevention tips will help you recognize who might be at risk and encourage you to talk to anyone in your life who could be suicidal.
Recognize the warning signs. These are the most obvious warning signs.
A suicide note or plans, either written, spoken, or posted on social media.
Direct suicidal threats like “I am going to kill myself” as well as indirect comments like “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up again.”
A fascination with death in literature, music, imagery, conversation, etc.
Giving away precious possessions and other gestures that have the appearance of making “final arrangements.”
Sudden and prolonged changes in behavior, feelings, appearance, friends, eating habits or thoughts (see our blog post “5 Ways to Recognize Your Teen is in Crisis”).
Don’t minimize the situation. Knowing the warning signs will help you realize the severity of the situation. While the teenage years can feel tumultuous to both teens and parents alike, don’t brush off any of these symptoms as “normal teen behavior” or “a difficult time.” Being familiar with the warning signs will help you determine whether a teen is truly at risk.
Start the conversation. If you suspect a teen is suicidal, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it in a friendly and non-judgmental way. By bringing up suicide, you are not “planting an idea” in a child’s mind if it wasn’t there already. Instead, you’re creating an opportunity for open and honest communication and they will most likely be relieved to have someone to talk to. When this dark and scary topic is out in the open, it can feel more manageable to a teen and they might share what the situation is that feels so insurmountable. Remember not to judge- what seems like a small problem to you may feel like the world to a teen. And by working through this, you’re helping them develop problem-solving skills that will stay with them for life.
Seek professional help. Connect the teen with a school crisis team, usually a team of trained teachers, counselors, etc. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled counselor at a crisis center in your area. Walk into a hospital, clinic, emergency room or urgent care center to get professional help your child needs, even if it’s just to talk. There are trained professionals who handle these kinds of situations every day and can help a teen work through this.
Here are a few local resources available: