How to Have an Honest Conversation about Suicide Prevention with Your Children

Keon Addai

Posted on September 02 2020

How to Have an Honest Conversation about Suicide Prevention with Your Children

In anticipation of National Suicide Prevention Week, which is September 6-September 12, 2020, I feel we all need to gain as much knowledge as possible to have this tough conversation with our children. Given everything that they normally face and adding the stress that Covid-19 challenges have bestowed upon them, this dialogue is paramount. I hope this blog allows you all to be able to bring your tribes to the table and have the talk that many never mention. XOXO

Findings from various studies indicate that the young population is particularly vulnerable to mental health problems and suicide. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) alarming data shows that depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among youth.

At the same time, suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents 15-19 years old. An estimated 31.9% of American adolescents aged 13-18 have some type of anxiety disorder. Furthermore, research shows that more than 14% of high-schoolers in the United States report suicidal thoughts, while almost 7% of high school students admit suicide attempts.

While not every depressive person is suicidal, most people who commit suicide are struggling with depression. Depression in adolescents and young adults is a significant risk factor for suicide. Mood changes and feelings of sadness are regular in kids and teens, as long as they don’t last for more than a few days.

However, if feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and anger last longer and distress your child’s daily life, you may suspect depression. Some of the most common signs of depression in children and teens involve:

  • Prolonged frustration and anger
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively
  • Changes in appetite
  • A lack of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Withdrawal from activities your child previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Thoughts of suicide

Apart from a major depressive disorder, other most common risk factors for suicide include:

  • A personal history of past suicide attempts
  • Substance and alcohol abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Identifying as a part of the LGBTQ population
  • Presence of another untreated mental illness
  • Chronic physical illness
  • A family history of mental illness or suicide attempts
  • A history of violence and child abuse in the family
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation and social withdrawal
  • Academic struggles
  • A significant life change that escalates feelings of hopelessness (death of a close person, loss of a relationship)
  • The stigma attached to mental illness and suicide.

Research shows that a feeling of hopelessness can be a more reliable indicator of suicidal intention than the depression itself. As a cognitive component of depression, hopelessness involves negative expectations from the future, which strongly correlates with suicide.

Unfortunately, the majority of youth with mental health concerns remain undetected and untreated. The failure to address mental illness can significantly impair your child’s well-being and hinder their opportunities to live a fulfilling life. In other words, an honest conversation about suicide risk factors and prevention is essential in protecting your child’s mental health and preventing suicide.

Encourage Emotional Expression

Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings and address “unspoken” thoughts and emotions. Explain that it is reasonable to feel confused, angry, sad, or embarrassed from time to time. Even if your child isn’t showing signs of depression, the most important thing you can do to prevent suicide is to talk about it. An honest conversation about suicide lets teenagers know they can seek your support if they need it.

Help Your Child Overcome the Feeling of Hopelessness

Research shows that depression is not significantly related to suicidal intention when a person can control feelings of hopelessness. These findings are significant because they allow mental health professionals to plan therapeutic interventions in preventing suicide that are focused on relieving despair.

Also, a conversation with your children about the feeling of hopelessness is a great place to start suicide prevention. Depression is an isolating condition, and just talking about it can have therapeutic effects.

Talk about Mental Illness and Suicide Stigma

Many young people are unwilling to seek help because of shame that results from mental illness stigma.

Surveys show that students with mental illness in the U.S. often experience discrimination when seeking mental health help at their campuses. The stigma attached to mental illness can aggravate the symptoms, prevent a young person with mental illness or/or suicidal thoughts from seeking treatment, and hinder recovery.

It is essential to encourage your children to talk about their challenges. Also, it is necessary to raise awareness that no one is immune to mental illness. Only the understanding that mental illness can happen to everyone can prevent suicide and encourage young people to seek help.

How to Talk About Suicide

Suicide is not the easiest subject to bring up. When talking about suicide with children, it is helpful to be mindful of your child’s developmental stage and use simple and clear language. Counter the stigma and hear your kids out – listen carefully to what they have to say and offer support.

If your child asks about someone who committed suicide, try to approach the subject naturally, and respond proactively; emphasize the importance of talking about feelings and getting help on time.

Bottom Line

Some of the most crucial protective factors against suicide involve strong relationships with family and friends, positive self-image, community connectedness, access to treatment, and strong problem-solving skills.

An honest conversation about suicide prevention with your children is a good starting line to reducing the risk of suicidal thoughts and acting on them.

Until next time Kuties! 


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