If you are concerned your teen may be thinking of self-harm or suicide, Teen Lifeline is here to support you. YOU can call us at 602-248-8336 (TEEN) or 800-248-8336 (TEEN)
If your teen is at immediate risk for suicide or self-harm, contact 911 or a local mobile crisis unit (Maricopa County, Arizona: 602-222-9444) or go to any emergency room and request a psychiatric evaluation.
Direct and indirect statements of harm must be taken very seriously. Immediate attention may be required.
What Can Parents Do?
Most teens who attempt or die by suicide have given some type of warning to loved ones ahead of time. It’s important for parents to know the warning signs so that kids who might be suicidal can get the help they need.
Watch and Listen
Keep a close eye on a teen who seems depressed and withdrawn. Poor grades, for example, may signal that your teen is withdrawing at school.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a teen, it can feel immense and consuming. It’s important not to minimize or discount what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.
If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor.
Some parents are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide in their teen’s head. This isn’t true; by asking, you give your teen an opportunity to reach out and get help.
It’s always a good idea to ask, even though doing so can be difficult. Sometimes it helps to explain why you’re asking. For instance, you might say something like one of these examples:
- “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”
- “Are you feeling suicidal?”
- “Sometimes when teens go through some of the difficulties you are going through, they think of suicide as an option, is this something you are thinking about?”
- “Do you feel like hurting yourself?”
Do not pass judgment: Your language, tone of voice, and body language can allow your teen to open up or shut down. Be aware of the ways you are expressing yourself to your teen, utilize nonjudgmental, supportive, and reflective language. For example:
- Don’t say, “This is crazy!” Instead say, “I’m concerned and I am not sure how to best support you with these kinds of feelings.”
- Don’t say, “Why would you want to die?” Instead say, “What are some of the reasons you are seeing suicide and/or self-harm as an option?”
- Don’t say, “There’s no reason to be upset about something like this!” Instead say, “It seems like you are really hurting and upset by this, how can I help you?”
Validate your teen’s feelings: Use “active listening” and allow your teen to be heard. Avoid using dismissive statements that minimize your teen’s feelings. Oftentimes, teens do not feel that their feelings will change, or that life will get better. As a parent, you want to create opportunities for open, honest communication. Invalidating your teen’s feelings, or dismissing their pain can create roadblocks in communication, openness, and trust.
Remember, if your teen is coming to you, THEY WANT TO TALK. They do not want their feelings to be DISMISSED, “Oh, you’re just being a moody teenager.” For Example:
- Don’t say, “Things always work out!” Instead say, “I can tell things are just really tough for you right now and you’re not sure when they will get better.”
- Don’t say, “This feeling will go away.” Instead say, “What you are going through is very painful and real and could take time before you feel better. I am here to help you through this.”
- Don’t say, “You’re just being a moody teenager, it will pass.” Instead say, “Being a teen is really hard, your body and mind go through a lot of changes that can affect your mood, some of your irritability can be normal, but some of it sounds pretty serious.”
If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or your local hospital’s department of psychiatry can provide a list of doctors in your area. Your local mental health association or county medical society can also provide references.
If your teen is in a crisis situation, your local emergency room can conduct a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and refer you to the appropriate resources.
Create Safety: Directly ask your teen if they have a plan for suicide. Take safety measures in your home and surroundings to minimize threats to safety for your teen. For example: Lock up all sharp objects, medications and other poisonous household agents and secure any firearms.
Confidentiality: There is no confidentiality when a teen’s life is at risk. If you are a family member of a teenager that has confided in you about their thoughts of suicide, let them know that you have to let others know. Secrets regarding suicide are too serious and life-threatening to keep.
Supervision and immediate safety: If you feel that your child is in immediate danger to harm themselves or act on suicidal thoughts, immediate safety measures should be taken. You have the option to call 911, contact a mobile crisis team, or transport your child to an emergency room in order to complete a psychiatric evaluation.
If immediate safety is not a concern: If your child’s immediate safety is not a concern at the moment, but feel your child may benefit from counseling, you have options.
- Option 1: Contact your primary care provider and request a referral to mental health services and counseling.
- Option 2: Contact your insurance provider directly and request a list of providers within your network.
- Option 3: If you do not have insurance, there are agencies with sliding scales available in most communities. You can find these on the web.
- Option 4: Call Teen Lifeline (602-248-8336 or 800-248-8336) to help you find a referral that works for your teen’s needs.
Coordinate: Keep your teen’s school and any other important parties in your teen’s life in the loop if possible. The more adults who are on the same page regarding your teen’s struggles and circumstances, the more safety you create for your teen.
If you are having trouble identifying your next step, and you need someone to talk to, Teen Lifeline is always here for YOU, to listen and to help. You’re not alone. Call 602-248-8336 (TEEN) or statewide in Arizona at 800-248-8336 (TEEN).