Last updated: February 8, 2022
Tips for Parents: Talking With Your Child About Suicide
These tips were provided by the Anne Arundel County Youth Suicide Awareness (YSA) Leadership Team.
Thoughts of suicide can occur at a young age.
It is important for parents to approach this topic mindfully and consider how and when to discuss suicide with their child. The truth is that any child can be at risk for suicide. Children experience many changes at tween and teenage years. Kids may feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad, pressured to succeed or uncertain for their future.
According to the 2016 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, completed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 percent of tenth graders in Anne Arundel County reported “seriously considering suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey,” and 26.4 percent of eighth graders reported that they “seriously thought about killing themselves.” County and national percentages have been trending upward. Read Trends in Youth Suicide in Anne Arundel County 2012-2016.
Talking about suicide DOES NOT plant the idea in someone’s head.
It can invite a conversation about a topic that is often kept secret. With cell phones and the internet, it is likely that your child will have some exposure to the issue of suicide. They may have questions or concerns they are not sure how to express. Directly talk with your child early on, and ensure they have accurate information. Let them speak openly about their thoughts and concerns without fear of denial, minimization or extreme reactivity. Stay calm, listen and offer guidance.
Time spent talking, is time well spent.
Approach the topic of suicide when you have the best chance of getting your child’s attention, for instance during car rides, playing games or cooking a meal together. Think about what to say ahead of time, and approach the subject in general and simple terms. Below are a few suggestions:
- Discuss feelings of sadness. Your child could be feeling down due to bullying, loss of a family member, divorce, seasonal depression or other reasons. Start a conversation and listen. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve ever felt like hurting themselves.
- Self-harm is never the remedy. Tell children that you love them, how important they are to you and that together you can work through any problem. They need to understand that they will not always feel the way they feel now. Things will get better, and they will be loved and taken care of no matter what.
- Be honest. If this is a hard subject to talk about, do not be afraid to admit it. Acknowledging your own discomfort, gives your child permission to acknowledge theirs. Let them know it is okay to feel sad sometimes, and you occasionally feel sad too.
- What is suicide? Explain that people die in different ways (e.g., cancer, heart attack, car accident and old age). Death by suicide is when someone intentionally caused their own death because of struggles with uncontrollable thoughts and emotional pain they did not know how to stop. Try approaching this by drawing a parallel to physical illness (e.g., they had an illness in their brain). For some, suicide may seem like the only solution to their problems. Be clear that, like other illnesses, suicidal thoughts are a treatable illness.
- Thoughts and feeling are often temporary. Discuss emotional struggles and feelings of depression; feelings of sadness and distress can make it hard to think straight and may seem overwhelming. Assure them that they will get through it, there will be a brighter future and you are there for them every step of the way.
- Help and treatment are available. Assure your child that they can come to you with any questions or concerns. Let them know that there are kind mental health professionals trained to work with youth who experience these thoughts and feelings. Encourage help-seeking behaviors with other trusted adults, such as parents, teachers, coaches, school counselors and clergy.
- Suicide is not a secret worth keeping. If your child is worried about a friend, or if a friend confides that they are feeling suicidal, your child should immediately tell a trusted adult. Betraying confidence can be hard and scary, but remind your child that losing a friendship is better than losing a friend.
Warning signs your child may be thinking of suicide:
- Symptoms of depression (e.g., fatigue, change in appetite and weight, poor school performance, feelings of guilt, irritability, anger or hopelessness)
- Changes in behavior, appetite and sleep
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Alcohol use or drug misuse
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Inability to concentrate or think clearly
- Giving away possessions and making arrangements to “take care of unfinished business”
- Talking about suicide, death or dying
- Suicide notes
For more information on youth suicide, visit the Partnership for Children, Youth and Families.
In the event that someone you know is considering suicide and needs immediate help, call 911.
Helpful Online Resources:
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Anne Arundel County Department of Health
- Anne Arundel County Network of Care
- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit-December 2021-MDH
Helpful Phone Lines:
- Anne Arundel County Crisis Warmline: 410-768-5522 (24 hours daily)
- Anne Arundel County Public Schools Student Safety Hotline: 833-632-7233 (24 hours daily)
- Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-422-0009 (24 hours daily)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (24 hour daily)
- Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency: 410-222-7858
- Anne Arundel County Department of Health Adolescent and Family Services: 410-222-6785
If you have lost someone, you are not alone. Here is help: