When You Think Your Child May Be Considering Suicide
When the threat of suicide hits close to home, it’s important to approach the situation with understanding, sensitivity, and great care. Here’s our recommended plan of action:
Evaluate the Risk
Start by using the S.L.A.P. acrostic to gauge the level of danger. If you see obvious signs of depression, get your child to a doctor for a medical evaluation immediately. Depression and brain/body chemistry are closely related. The goal of the medical evaluation is to get your child stabilized, which is important to do before addressing thoughts of suicide and attempting to treat the psychological aspects of the situation.
Talk About It
Find or create an opportunity to talk with your child about what he’s going through. You can make this easier by inviting him to go for a drive with you, perhaps with pizza or ice cream as the destination. When deep emotions or delicate subjects are at stake, kids are often more comfortable talking to a windshield than engaging you eye-to-eye.
Your tone of voice, your body language, and the level of anxiety you convey will have a very real impact on the discussion. Stay in prayer as the conversation proceeds and ask the Lord to grant you an extra measure of self-control.
Avoid those of the yes-or-no variety. Ask how, what, or why instead. Try to come up with open-ended, nondirective invitations to dialogue. Help your child feel comfortable about sharing his thoughts and impressions by prompting him with unfinished sentences. For example, you could say, “You have deep feelings about this because . . . ” If you get short, noncommunicative answers such as “I don’t know,” ask for details. Say something along these lines: “Tell me more. What’s going well? What isn’t? What does it feel like inside your mind and body right now?” Encourage journaling or play emotional charades as methods of discovering deep-seated emotions.
Don’t allow your teen to downplay or minimize the issue (much as you may want to minimize it). On the other hand, don’t make mountains out of molehills. Remain calm and try to strike the right balance.
Guide and Empower
Don’t be afraid to press the need to seek professional help. Make it clear to your teen that this is an absolute necessity. Tell her that she has no alternative except to get the treatment she needs. At the same time, empower her with appropriate choices. Allow her the option of talking to other adult mentors—a pastor, for instance, or a youth leader, a teacher, coach, grandfather, or neighbor with whom your family has an especially close relationship. Kids often hesitate to share deep feelings with their parents because they have unfinished business with them.
End on a Positive Note
Try to bring your conversation, or series of conversations, to a close by focusing on life rather than death. Ask your child, “Who do you think God wants you to be? What would it look like for you to live a positive, healthy life? How can you contribute to the well-being of others?” Make these topics the ultimate goal of your discussion.
Remember, suicide isn’t something that comes out of the blue. Many factors can contribute to a person actually deciding to end his life. In our current cultural setting, there’s a very real danger that suicide can become contagious. If a teen hears about a suicide, he may see it as a solution to his own problems—problems such as bullying, trauma, loneliness, rejection by peers, or abuse. Family members, celebrities, friends, or coworkers who attempt suicide can give him the sense that he’s been granted permission to follow their example. That’s why open communication on the subject is essential.
We know this is easier said than done. But the lives of our children are at stake. That’s why we need to open up and start talking about the problem of suicide.
Noticers, Builders, and Connectors
You can encourage your kids to help others who may be at risk of suicide by being a Noticer, Builder, and Connector. Use these questions to start the conversation.
Be a Noticer
Has anyone told you that he wants to kill himself? Have you ever had such thoughts? Why do you think people consider suicide?
Be a Builder
What do you think has been lost in a person’s life if he wants to skip to “game over”? How can you help someone feel a sense of worth? What are some ways you can reach out to kids who seem all alone? How do you know you are cared about in your home? When do you feel loved?
Be a Connector
Who do you feel safe sharing your experiences and feelings with? Why do you feel they are the best to understand? What can you do if a friend starts talking about suicide? Do you trust your teachers, school counselor, or principal to handle a situation like this? If someone is thinking about suicide, tell that person to contact one of these hotlines:
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255
- Suicide Crisis Text Line (text “Connect” to 741741)
- Lifeline Crisis Chat at www.crisischat.org.