This article discusses suicide. If your teen is in immediate danger or is going to act on suicidal thoughts, call 000 if you live in Australia. A number of crisis support services are also there for you – have a look at our urgent help page.
If your child is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s important they have a safety plan for times they feel unsafe or as though there’s nothing they can do. A safety plan is like a mental health first aid kit for your child. It is something that you and your child should work out and agree on together for when they need help through a crisis.
Making a safety plan
A safety plan helps your child get perspective and support when they are in crisis and may not be able to make appropriate decisions for themselves. By encouraging your child to write down their safety plan, they’ll be better equipped to keep themselves safe. Here are some things your child needs to make decisions about in advance:
When to use the plan
Your child should write down the situations, thoughts or feelings that might cause them to feel suicidal. Are there triggers or early warning signs they recognise that might mean they need to use their safety plan? For example, your child may recognise that when they’re feeling suicidal they don’t want to go out or be around people, or that certain memories or situations make them feel suicidal.
What to do to comfort themselves if they feel suicidal
Encourage your child to make a list of things they can do to feel safe, protected and comforted. Their list should include:
Their reasons for living
Encourage your child to create a list of their reasons for living. These are different for everyone and might not make sense to you, but the important thing is that it gives them a reason to stay alive. The list might include anything such as my family, my friends, I’m curious about my future, my pet, I could get better or my faith.
Who they can talk to when they are feeling distressed
Ensure your child makes a list of contacts they can call in a crisis. It might include family, friends, their counsellor and anyone else they trust. The list should be long so that if the first person isn’t available, there are other people they can contact. Include names, phone numbers and other relevant information of people so the information is readily at hand if they need it.
Who they can contact for professional help
Ask your child to write down some professional organisations they can call on at times of crisis to ensure they receive professional advice. This might include 24/7 counselling services such as Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Lifeline (13 11 14) or 13Yarn (13 92 76; to speak with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crisis supporter), and their doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
How they will make themselves safe
Encourage your child to write down what will they do to make their environment safe when they feel like they want to hurt themselves. This might include securing items that they might use to hurt them self or to ask someone else to help them stay safe. For example, they may decide that when they feel like they can’t cope, they will go to their best friend’s house.
They can also document the activities they will do to distract themselves until the thoughts of attempting pass. This could even include making a box of activities they like to distract them – a colouring in book, a favourite movie on dvd, oil burner/essential oils, a cake mix, photo album of positive memories etc.
What to do to if the safety plan is not enough to keep them safe
If the safety plan isn’t enough to keep your child safe, and they don’t feel like they can help themselves any longer, it’s important they make an agreement to let someone know, or to call emergency services on ‘000’ in Australia or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
Safety plans can be helpful but don’t rely on them. Ensure you continue to support your child to get professional help, and check on how they are going regularly.