Addressing the “S” Word: How to Discuss Suicide with Children & Teens?

Ariel BraceyWritten by December 31, 2020 12:03 am Categories:

No one wants to say it out loud…the dreaded “S” word. It is a loaded word fraught with thoughts of darkness, despair, worry, fear and death. Suicide is when someone takes their own life. It’s challenging for adults to discuss, so imagine the difficulty for parents to begin dialogue with their children, adolescents or teens. As we begin to close out September, which highlights Suicide Prevention, I wanted to share some staggering statistics, clear up misconceptions and offer ways to open healthy dialogue with your children.

In recent years, the topic of suicide has gripped the attention of mainstream culture from television shows like, 13 Reasons Why to the loss of pop culture figures who have taken their own lives as a solution to long standing pain. The reality is that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-33. It’s the fourth leading cause of death among adults ages 35-54. These numbers are alarming and reveals just how pervasive it is and how many people suffer in silence. Suicide can impact any person. It is not segregated to one gender, ethnicity, economic status, culture, race, community, or household.

No parent wants to think of their child grappling quietly with overwhelming feelings of hopeless and pain—nor for them to believe there is no way out. Many people, especially parents, feel that talking about suicide can increase the chances of their child attempting suicide or even open the door for them to explore it as an option, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Openly discussing and educating your child about suicide, helps to reduce the stigma. It also strengthens communication between you and your child and allows for a prevention plan to protect your family.

Here are some healthy things we know as therapists about dialogue, it can create a pathway of freedom for your child to share any sadness, depression, or suicidal ideations. As a parent, it will empower you to know the warning signs and understand behavioral patterns.

Below are four ways to open the lines of communication with your child or teen about suicide.

Know the Signs

Before discussing the topic with your child, it’s important for you to know the red flags. It will help build your understanding of what suicidal behaviors can look like in your child’s life.

Reg Flags May Include:

  • Changes in mood: observed/noticeable increase in depression, sadness, anxiousness, anger, and/or sense of hopelessness/worthiness.
  • Changes in behaviors: sudden changes in eating/sleeping habits, withdrawal from family and friends, lack of interest in preferred activities, decline school performance, giving away belongings, or cutting.
  • Changes in conversation: direct/indirect comments regarding suicide in form of verbal conversations with others, text messages, social media, and/or drawings/poems. Talking about feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness, talking about or wishing death, researching or asking about ways to die, researching weapons, saying goodbye suddenly or making arrangements to speak, “One last time.”

Have a Plan

Having a plan in place can help everything go smoother. Knowing what to say based on your child or teens level of comprehension and development can be extremely helpful in guiding the discussion. Having a few talking points can be helpful, however, don’t feel the need to have a lengthy outline. Allow it to be an organic conversation between a concerned parent and child.

Be Honest, Calm, and Direct

Talking about suicide can be uncomfortable and worrisome. Talking about your feelings and thoughts regarding the topic is helpful. Not only does this model open dialogue for your child, but it breaks the barrier of discomfort. Prepare yourself to remain calm if your child or teen provides questions or statements that throw you off guard. This allows for your child or teen to not shut down or feel that their inquires are inappropriate. Remember, this is an honest conversation. Present the information in a matter-of-fact type of way. Stick to the research and information you have discovered. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • “What are somethings that you’ve have heard about suicide?”
  • “What do you think about suicide?”
  • “Do you know if any of your friends have thought about it?”
  • “What would you tell a friend who was thinking of suicide?”
  • “Has this been something that’s ever crossed your mind?”

Be Supportive

Let you child or teen know that no matter what you will continue to love and support them. Let them know that they can openly come to you and share their thoughts and feelings. It will open the doors of communication and increase the chances of them seeking you first for help. Discuss and potentially create a family action plan that includes support members or places your child can go if they need resources or feel suicidal. Our team at Revolutionary Change Counseling understands the seriousness of the major impact of suicide and are ready and available to support you and your child or teen. Please call us at (813) 331-7673 for counseling services for individuals, couples, families and children. We are located in Apollo Beach and we service the Riverview, Brandon, Ruskin, Sun City, Seffner, Gibsonton and
Bradenton Area.

Ariel Bracey, MSW is a licensed social worker who treats clients challenged by suicide, sadness, depression, anxiety and mood disorders at Revolutionary Change Counseling LLC.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.  (2020). 1999-2018 Wide Ranging Online Data for Epidemiological Research (WONDER), Multiple Cause of Death files [Data file]. Retrieved from http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html

Ariel BraceyWritten by December 31, 2020 12:03 am Categories: