Your Child Has Talked About Ending Their Life: What's Next?
Sep 10, 2018
Talking to your child about suicide may be the toughest and most uncomfortable conversation you ever have, but it may also be the most important. Listening makes your child more comfortable about sharing thoughts and feelings that are upsetting and deeply personal.
Here are four tips to use when talking to your child:
Discuss changes you have noticed and why you are concerned.
Ask your child directly, “Have you thought about killing yourself?”
Do not try to solve your child’s issues. Instead, show compassion and support.
Let them know that you will be there for them. Give them time to manage intensely painful emotions.
But, what if you find out that your child has thought about ending their life? It can be scary and confusing. Figuring out what to do to help your child and how to help them stay safe can be overwhelming. Acknowledge the pain your child is in and the strength it takes to share feelings. Be nonjudgmental in your reaction and trust your instincts; take your child for evaluation if you have concerns. If you have immediate concerns, go directly to your local emergency department.
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. About 17 percent of high school students report having seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 12 percent of kids age 6 to 12 have suicidal thoughts. Additionally, remember that you or your child have done nothing wrong.
Getting support from a mental health professional can help your child and encourage hope. Work with that person to develop a safety plan, which should include a list of trusted adults with whom your child can touch base when they are in crisis, the crisis hotline and text line numbers in easily accessible places like on the refrigerator and stored in phone contacts, and some coping skills that your child can practice. Share the safety plan with trusted adults and make sure to update everyone if risk factors change. Phone apps and other technology can be used to make safety plans easy for everyone to access.
You are in charge of who receives or shares your child’s medical information, so it might be a good idea to allow a small group of supportive adults across different settings (teachers, school counselors, doctors and family members) share information. The way to do this is to provide permission by signing releases of information for them.
Your child’s own mental health concerns may raise your level of distress if you have depression or anxiety yourself. You may become frustrated and worn out and it may be harder to feel supportive and patient if your child thinks about suicide often. If this is the case, it may be helpful to get counseling for yourself to manage your own emotions in order to have the resources to provide effective care for your child.
Items that could be dangerous (like prescription and over-the-counter medications, alcohol, cleaning supplies, sharp objects, belts, ropes, and especially guns and bullets) should be locked up or removed from the home. If necessary, constant and direct supervision of your child may be needed to keep them safe.
All thoughts and statements about suicide, death, and dying as well as behaviors taken to injure oneself or to end one’s life should be taken seriously.
If you or your child needs immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, go to your local emergency room immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
For more information on Nationwide Children's Hospital's Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, click here.
John Ackerman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He directs community, school, and hospital efforts to educate others about the risks and warning signs of pediatric suicide.
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