How should parents react if their teens are expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings? Talking about suicide can be scary for all involved. Making hard conversations a regular part of parent/teen communication makes it easier to tackle the tough topics like suicide. Thoughts of suicide should always be taken seriously. Remember; if someone you know is in imminent danger, seek help immediately.
Being prepared can make an indescribably difficult situation more manageable. Be proactive. One trait common to families affected by a child’s suicide is poor communication. Teens hear about suicide from a variety of sources. Talking about it can be a real relief. It is a myth that talking about suicide will plant the idea in someone’s head. Learn about the factors that can put a teen at risk for suicide. Marines and their families have many available resources online and on their local installations to learn more about suicide.
Teens need “nonjudgmental” listening to what they are feeling and thinking. Listening without judgement creates an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on. You do not have to agree. Just listen. Listening validates their experience and feelings. Demonstrate active listening by using body language that shows you’re listening. Summarize your teen’s comments. It is a natural response to want to talk your teen out of suicide, react with fear, or do anything to keep your teen safe. Do not jump in with advice, reassurance, or problem solving. Encourage your teen to talk to you. If your teen is not able to express him or herself right away, ask questions at a later time.
Parents all too often want to protect and solve their teen’s problems before they clarify the actual problem. Ask questions that invite your teen to say more. Ask clarifying questions to get a better idea of the situation. This can be tricky, because asking the wrong questions can shut down the discussion. Parents need to find a balance between making sure their teen is safe, while not making it feel like an interrogation. Ask an open-ended question like “What do you mean when you say I’m depressed, or I want to kill myself”. Allow for open conversation. Listen carefully. Work to understand the root of the problem. Remember, you do not have to agree. Just listen.
Many teens may not talk to their parents because they feel their parent will “freak out.” The reactions parents may have when they hear their son or daughter has thoughts of suicide are natural. Remind yourself to remain calm and supportive. You may need a few minutes to take a deep breath to compose yourself. Set up a comfortable environment in a non-threatening place to have a conversation. Minimize possible distractions. Staying calm can assist you in getting to the root of the problem and allow their teen to express the feelings they have been keeping inside.
A teenager may not directly ask for help, but that doesn't mean help isn't wanted. Suicide prevention begins with recognizing warning signs and taking them seriously. If you would like more information on how to talk to your teen about suicide, depression, stress or anxiety please contact Marine Corps Community Counseling at your local installation or contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. Press 1 for the Military/ Veteran’s Crisis line You can also text the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 838255.