The statistics on teen suicide are staggering. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Suicide is among the leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds in Canada, second only to accidents”.
Unfortunately, there is still much stigma surrounding depression and suicide, and so sometimes these kids keep their emotional pain to themselves.
What can parents of teenagers do to help their children stay safe and healthy?
1) Stay as calm as possible
Having a teen struggling with thoughts of suicide is one of the scariest moments for any parent, leading many parents to naturally react in panic. And of course the thought of losing a child is terrifying.
And at the same time we know staying calm is so important. One of the biggest barriers I hear from teens to sharing their struggles with their parents is the fear that their parents will “freak out”.
Let’s take a few deep breaths exhaling very slowing and do the best you can. If you have some extra time check out our blog on mindful parenting.
2) Speak with Your teen
Many parents believe that trying to speak with their kids about their moods and feelings will only push them farther away. This is a dangerous misconception. In reality, teenagers need to know they are safe, loved and cared for. Check out our blog 5 ways to encourage your teen to talk for some ideas.
You may want to begin your conversation by asking general questions about what’s going on in their life. When the time feels right, you can ask if they have ever had thoughts of self-harm. If they answer yes, ask specifically if they are planning on or intending to harm themselves.
3) Validate Their Feelings
Once you’ve begun this sensitive dialogue with your teen, it’s important to actively listen and validate their feelings. Your kid must really believe you are a) hearing what they’re telling you and b) recognizing the importance of it. Try and listen without judgement. This will help your child relax and open up, thereby giving you an opportunity to learn even more about their inner emotional life.
4) Clarify the Situation
If your teen confides they are having thoughts of suicide, it’s incredibly important that you remain calm and ask questions that will help you clarify the situation. You will want to determine if they are mentioning suicide because they:
- Want to tell you just how bad they are feeling.
- Alert you to something they need but are not getting.
- Need to vocalize their desire to stop feeling so many emotions.
- Have planned how and if they have determined when they might take their life.
A strategy families have found helpful for communicating risk is to use a rating scale. I often use 1-3 number system, but I have seen families use a wide range of numbers, colours, or animals. **The most important part is clearly communicating to each other what each symbol mean – and what the safety plan is.
Here’s an example of a tool a family could use to rate risk:
0 = no thoughts of suicide
1 – 1.99 = thoughts of suicide increasing in severity and frequency
2 – 2.99 = thoughts of suicide and a plan
3+ = thought of suicide, a plan, and intention to act on the plan
mandatory tell parent or another designated adult, call mobile mental health crisis* line, go to emergency department if emergency
5) Seek Professional Guidance
Any talk of suicide is a serious matter and can require professional guidance by a trained counsellor. The blogs on this website are not meant to replace professional mental health services.
If you or a loved one is seeking therapy options for a troubled teen, please be in touch. We would be more than happy to discuss how we may be able to help your family. Check out our Teen Therapy page and Therapy for Parents pagefor more information.
Link for Emergency and Crisis supports through IWKincluding
*Mental Health Mobile Crisis Call 902.429.8167 or 1.888.429.8167 (toll-free)
IWK Mental And Addictions Central Referral Community Mental Health Clinic
Link for Kids Help phone.Support for young people offered via phone, chat and text.