Suicide is consistently a leading cause of death among adolescents in the US and worldwide. Understandably, many parents are worried about talking to their child or teenager about suicide. The good news is that many years of research has demonstrated that asking children and teenagers about whether they have been thinking about hurting or killing themselves does not “give them the idea” to kill themselves. In fact, youth who are experiencing suicidal thoughts often report feeling relieved when a parent or therapist asks them about their thoughts.
Youth who have a previous history of suicidal thoughts or behavior (like a suicide attempt) are at much higher risk for dying by suicide compared to youth without such histories. At this time, we do not have any well-established treatments that have been shown to prevent suicide among at risk youth. However, there are several treatment approaches that have demonstrated some effectiveness in keeping children and adolescents safe. These include a combination cognitive behavioral therapy (individual + family + parent training), family based attachment therapy, and combination psychodynamic therapy (individual + family). What we know so far is that having the family involved is really important to keeping kids safe. There are many effectiveness trials underway to evaluate individual therapies as well as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
If you are ever concerned that your child might be thinking about suicide, we recommend seeking professional help immediately. If you are concerned that your child is at immediate risk of harming themselves, take your child to your local emergency room for an evaluation. If your child has a past history of suicidal thoughts or behavior, and you notice a change in mood (either really sad or really happy), we recommend making contact with your child’s therapist.
There are numerous warning signs and risk factors for suicide. You can review those at this website run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/
You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You do not have to be in a suicidal crisis to call. You can call professionals on this line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all year round.
If you need to find a therapist, please check out our Locate a Psychologist tool.
Last updated on: Aug 01, 2017