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5 Things a Parent can Do When Their Teen has Suicidal Thoughts

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A teenage girls sits alone in despair, a phone in the foreground references the importance of trying to communicate.

If you or someone you know is currently in crisis or imminent danger, call 9-1-1. If you, a loved one, or a friend is in crisis, speak with someone immediately by dialing 9-8-8. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available in English and Spanish. Hours are 24/7 daily.

It can be scary to think about your teen having suicidal thoughts. What do you do? How do you talk about it?

According to America’s Health Rankings (2021), in 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds. Suicide rates are higher among males than females, as well as individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There is a myth that if you talk about suicide, your teen will have more thoughts about suicide, or be more likely to die by suicide. In reality, if you talk to and express your love for your teen, this can be helpful for them. It allows your teen to feel comfortable enough to talk to you, and opens the gates for you to check in with your teen. Lastly, it can help your teen get the professional help that they need.

Here are 5 things a parent can do when their teen has suicidal thoughts.

1) Express your love and care:

When your teen approaches you and shares that they are having suicidal thoughts, be sure to express your love and care for them. It can help to express this through words, or through actions. You can tell your teen, “I am here for you,” or “I am proud of you.” You can also say a simple “I love you,” to your teen so they know that you care. Additionally, you can also express your care through your actions. This can look like spending quality time with your teen by watching their favorite tv show with them, or learning more and talking with them about one of their passions.

2) Validate your Teen:

Nobody likes when they are told they are overreacting, or that “it’s not a big deal.” When talking to your teen, steer away from statements like this and try to use validating language. Try to focus on the emotion rather than the action your teen is talking about. You can say, “it sounds like you are struggling” or “it sounds like you feel alone.” Don’t worry if you feel like you might be getting the emotion wrong, because if you do, your teen will probably correct you.

3) Check in with your Teen:

When your teen shares they are having suicidal thoughts, it can help to check in with them more often. Ask them how their day went, ask them how their mental health is, or, more directly, ask them if they are having suicidal thoughts. Many parents believe that if they ask about suicide, they are going to put the idea of suicide into their teen’s mind. In actuality, when parents ask about suicide, it creates a safe place for your teen to talk to you.

4) Seek out Professional Support:

If your teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek out professional support. This can look like contacting a therapist and having your teen begin therapy. It can also look like taking your teen to the hospital or calling 911. If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, and they do not have a plan to die by suicide, then it can be appropriate to make an appointment with a counselor. If your teen has suicidal thoughts and a plan to carry out their suicide, the best course of action is to call 911 or take your teen to a hospital so they can receive care. It’s similar to how if your child had a cold you would take them to the doctor, or how if your child has a heart attack you would take them to the emergency room.

5) Participate in Therapy:

It is important to participate in therapy with your teen once they begin treatment. It is important to work with your teen and their therapist on how you can be supportive. It can also be helpful to participate in therapy so your teen knows that you care.

Remember that talking about suicide can be the bridge to getting your teen support, validation, and showing you care. If you teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts, express your love and care, validate your teen, check in with them, seek out professional support, and participate in therapy. If you are worried your teen is going to attempt suicide, call 911 or take your child to the hospital.

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Nina Iraheta wears a light blue sweater and has long dark hair streaked with blonde. She has a bright, kind smile.

About Nina Iraheta

In my free time I like to read, hang out with my cat, and attend live shows. I love a good suspense/thriller book, however I also love to spend the night singing along to my favorite artists at live shows! I also love to enjoy nature, go hiking, and it is a hope of mine to visit all of the national parks in the United States!

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