Talking With Your Child About Suicide
Talking to your child about suicide can be a nerve-racking and difficult conversation to approach. You don’t want to put them on the spot, but you want to protect your child from all forms of self-harm. The first step is to understand why you are having these concerns.
Have you noticed that your child is acting differently?
Have you noticed a change in your child's:
Previously enjoyed activities
Relationships with family and friends
Is your child engaging in unusual behaviors?
Making poor choices
Is your child making threats?
“I wish I was dead.”
“Just kill me.”
“It’s not worth living.”
Has your child been through a major life event?
A family move, separation, or divorce
Loss of a loved one or friend, a break-up
Bullying at school
Write out a list of the concerns you may be observing and where they may be stemming from. For example, your child has moved to a new school and has been experiencing bullying. They come home and say, “Just kill me!” They have been acting reclusive, their grades are slipping, they are not eating as much and complaining that they can’t sleep. This most likely started with the move, losing former school friends, and feeling uncomfortable at the new school. Having a perspective as to why your child may be acting differently can help you gain insight. Coming into the discussion about suicide with empathy and some level of understanding will positively affect the conversation.
Starting the Conversation
Feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable is normal, and experienced by most parents being faced with the idea of having a difficult conversation about suicide. However, it is paramount to remind yourself that you are just concerned and want to help your child. Think about what you want to say and how to say it. Roleplay or rehearse the conversation beforehand. Knowing what to say will help keep you on track and lessen the stress. Choose a good time to talk. Make sure there are no distractions. During a drive home, or after dinner would be a good time with few distractions. Don’t be afraid to “schedule” a time to have a discussion. “I want to talk to you after dinner about something important.” When it’s time to talk, normalize their experience and allow the conversation walls to come down. “I know it’s been hard for you moving to a new school and dealing with that bully. You’ve been acting differently, and I’m worried about you.” Speak directly but in a non-threatening tone. Ask simply, “do you think about suicide?” If they respond “yes,” don’t overreact. Educate them that they are not alone in those thoughts. Let them know that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in children and young adults. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide reports that 17% of high school students admit to thinking about suicide, and 8% have attempted suicide. Make them feel comfortable talking to you about this by staying calm, expressing empathy and showing support.
There are many treatment options for your child. Some places to start are:
Speaking to a doctor or psychiatrist
Treatment may be affected by the severity of the suicidal thoughts. Talk to your family doctor, therapist or psychiatrist to gain more insight as to how to best proceed with treatment.