Parenting Suicidal Teenagers

Parenting teenagers is a daunting task in and of itself, but what if the teenager you are parenting is having thoughts of self-harm or of suicide?  That adds a whole new layer of worries and confusion to parenting.  In the last couple of weeks we have seen two well-known celebrities end their lives and their fight with depression.  After these deaths, parents have been asking how they keep their children safe?  If people who seemingly had it all couldn’t find another way out, how can our children?  The news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain has opened a door for all of us to use this as a way to talk about suicide, and to seek help when it is needed most.

Here are Five Tips to Parenting Suicidal Teenagers:

  1. Talk about it! It seems that parents are afraid to ask about suicidal thoughts or to talk about suicide for fear that they will put ideas into their child’s head.  That is not true.  Talking about it does not give them the idea, it opens up the lines of communication for them and let’s them know that they have a safe place to talk about it. This is a topic that is still so often kept a secret.  Allowing it to be talked about only helps you as a parent and your child.
    • Pick a good time to talk.  Pick a time when you will have less interruptions or distractions and you will have the attention of your child.  A car ride or dinner together might be good options.
    • Have a plan about how you want to talk about it with them.  Start with, “I was reading about Kate Spade today…” or “June is Mental Health Awareness Month…” or “I saw that your school has a suicide prevention campaign coming up…”
    • Listen to what they have to say.  Allow them to open up without interrupting. Ask clarifying questions to things you don’t understand.  If what they are telling you worries or upsets you, be honest.  “This has been a lot for me to process.  Let me think about this some more and then we can talk again later ok?”
    • Be Honest.  You don’t have to be an expert.  If you don’t know something then tell them “I am not sure I know what to do here.  Let’s try and find someone together that can help us.”  If this is a hard topic for you to talk about, let them know “This is really hard for me to talk about as well, but I think it is really important  to talk about.”
    • Watch your reactions.  Your child will be using this talk as a way to gauge the safety of this topic.  Don’t over-react but also don’t under-react.  Keep anger away and try and control your emotions while talking with them.  Be sure to process your emotions at some point, though.
  2. Connect with other parents that are dealing with a suicidal teenager as well.  Remember that you are not alone.  Again, this subject is one that is so often kept quiet or kept within families and can make you feel isolated.  Reach out.  Find a support group in your area.  If you can’t find one, reach out to a mental health agency to have them give you resources or to start a group.  Talking with others that are struggling in the same ways that you are will help you heal, process things and maybe even give you ideas of how to help your child that you hadn’t thought of yet.
  3. Find new ways to get help.  There are so many options out there of ways to get help.  It isn’t a one-size fits all solution.  Do some research.  Whether it be individual therapy, support groups for you or your child, family therapy, inpatient therapy, biofeedback, prescription medication, holistic approaches, technology- apps on your phone…try things until you find what fits for your child, for you and for your family.  Don’t give up hope.
  4. Self-Care!  Don’t forget about taking care of yourself.  As a parent in general, it is easy to put yourself last.  You can’t pour from an empty cup.  Take a break every now and then and do something just for you.  Take a bath, watch a TV show you want to watch, sit outside with your cup of coffee in the morning, whatever it may be that will give you a moment of clarity and relaxation, do it.
  5. Give resources.  Don’t expect that your child will always come to you when they are in crisis.  Talk with them about how you are always available, but give other resources too.  Help them think of a trusted adult that they could speak with, maybe a school counselor or their favorite teacher or coach.  Give them hotlines to call if they need to.
    • For here in St. Louis, MO a great crisis line to call is the Provident Hotline at 314-647-4357
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
    • Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 to text with a trained Crisis Counselor

Suicide is a scary subject for anyone, especially when dealing with teenagers.  Reach out for help if you feel like you need it or your teenager needs it.  Remember that suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in any other way, and by getting your teenager the help they need they can begin to find other solutions.