Talking With Your Teen About Suicide

September 18, 2015

Talking To Your Teenager About Suicide
By Carolyn Bulmash, LCSW

One of the unfortunate realities we all must come to accept is that suicide is on the rise. With more day to day stressors of finances, job security, and a whole new world of hate and discrimination throughout the globe and cyberspace, more people are opting to end their lives than continue with emotional struggles. Coping with this new reality is a struggle for all of us, especially teenagers who by nature experience a great deal of emotional turmoil.
It can be difficult to know how to talk to a teenager about intense emotions around suicide. Each teenage develops at their own rate and their ability to understand and process deep feelings can vary. However, it remains crucial we address difficult and confusing emotions nonetheless. When someone your teen knows ends their life, discuss the details of the event as appropriate and help your son or daughter make sense of the situation while not volunteering unnecessary information.

Without the support of family and friends, teens may try to make sense of this confusing situation themselves. Sometimes teenagers blame themselves for something they may or may not have done. Teenagers may not want to talk directly about their worries or feelings. Instead, they may show them in other ways. They may isolate, or not talk to their friends.

It is important to create a safe space where your teenager will feel comfortable and free to express themselves and share their emotions. Even if a teen initially seems reluctant or unresponsive, provide multiple opportunities to talk. Often, asking questions may help a teen narrow down their own overwhelming feelings and can help find a spot to begin this difficult conversation. It is important to remember that despite our own difficult feelings regarding such issues, being open and honest with a teenager is important. Expressing our own sadness, anger, and confusion models appropriate emotional responses and helps teenagers know they are not alone in their feelings.
As difficult as it may be, it is our responsibility as adults to share the basics of a suicide attempt with our teens. This includes discussing injuries sustained during the attempt. We also need to help teens understand what happened in the context of the person’s life. Discussing mental illness or substance abuse with honest details is important in helping teenagers understand how one can make the drastic decision to take their own life. While it is important to provide concrete details with teenagers, it is important to use caution as well. If contributing factors to the suicide attempt had to do with relationship issues (parents or peers), we must be careful to avoid details that would put the teenager in the middle. For example, saying child custody was a factor may make the teenager feel guilty in thinking where they were living made the attempt their fault. Instead, statements such as “the divorce has been hard on everyone” might be helpful. The goal in a conversation about suicide is to answer a teenagers question in non-judgmental, calm way so they won’t be afraid to ask more questions as needed.

If you are struggling to know how to approach this conversation with a teenager in your life, or having difficulties managing any thoughts and emotions regarding suicide, please call one of our therapists in Associates in Psychotherapy to schedule an appointment at (866) 220-8371.