“Are you thinking about suicide?” Mental health experts agree that asking this five-word question could be the key to preventing a suicide and opening the lines of communication with someone in need.
At a time when suicide is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., a conversation about suicide with your teen may be challenging, but it is extremely important. A recent study found that more kids think about attempting suicide than ever before, with girls representing two-thirds of reported deaths by suicide.
“One of the most effective ways to determine if someone is having suicidal thoughts is simply to ask them,” says Dr. Jennifer Wojciechowski, a clinical child psychologist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
“Contrary to popular belief, talking to people about suicide does not cause it,” she says. “In fact, these conversations can reduce stigma and show loved ones reluctant to reach out for help that you are willing to discuss their suicidal thoughts in a supportive, nonjudgmental manner. Expressing your concern by acknowledging and talking about suicide may actually prevent a suicide.”
While your child’s pain isn’t always obvious, there are signs of depression and thoughts of suicide that parents should look for. These include:
- Personality change
- Loss of interest in friendships or activities
- Neglect of personal appearance
- Changes in sleeping and eating
- Sudden mood changes
- Reckless behavior
- Physical pain
- Substance abuse
- Giving away belongings
- Talking about death
Recognizing these warning signs and discussing them with your teen play a primary role in preventing a tragedy. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and its partners throughout the U.S. have launched the #BeThe1To campaign featuring five action steps for talking with someone who may be considering suicide. The campaign calls on you to “be the one to” take each of the following steps to help a loved one in need.
Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” opens the door for effective communication about the pain your teen may be feeling and their thoughts of suicide. Take their answers seriously and listen to the causes of their pain as well as the reasons they want to continue living. Focus on these reasons to stay alive and never promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.
- Keep them safe
If your teen is indeed suicidal, ask if they have already tried to harm or kill themselves; if they have identified a method or created a detailed plan; when they plan to attempt suicide; and whether they have access to the tools or weapons needed to carry out their plan. It is imperative to put time and distance between your teen and their chosen method — a highly effective means to decrease the possibility of suicide.
- Be there
Show that you will support your teen by being with them, listening to them and expressing that you want to help alleviate their hopelessness and pain. Increasing connectedness and limiting isolation are proven effective measures to prevent suicide.
- Help them connect
Create a safety net for your teen by connecting them to family members, friends, positive role models, and medical and psychological health care professionals. Encourage them to talk about the pain they are feeling. Seek support and resources in your community or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Develop a safety plan for what to do and who to contact if your teen finds themselves in a moment of crisis or if thoughts of suicide increase.
- Follow up
Continue to check in with your teen to see how they are doing and whether they continue to experience thoughts of suicide —and encourage others in their support team to do the same. Continuous support can greatly reduce the risk for suicide.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, seek help as soon as possible. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital offers inpatient and outpatient programs for children and teens experiencing serious behavioral and emotional problems, including self-harm, aggression, depression and suicide. Learn more about child and adolescent mental health services.
For the news media: To talk with a Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital expert about talking about suicide for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.