Finding out your teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts is one of the most challenging things you can experience as a parent. You might be wondering how to help them, or whether you’ve contributed in some way to your teen’s situation. A recent study found that almost 20 per cent of young people in Australia between the ages of 14 and 17 had experienced thoughts of suicide in the past year.
Thankfully, there are lots of ways parents can help young people who are going through this experience.
A few years ago, Sue’s family was experiencing a few challenges after having recently migrated to Australia. Her daughter, Chloe, was finding school difficult. A combination of culture shock and the loss of a close friendship was causing her to feel scared, stressed and lonely.
Watch the video below, and then check out Sue’s tips for other parents, to find out how she helped her daughter through this difficult time.
Sue’s tips for other parents
1. Look out for warning signs
Every teen is different, and they all display warning signs of suicidal thoughts differently. However, it can be helpful to be aware of some common warning signs so that you can have a conversation with your teen about how they are feeling, before things progress further. The following are some common warning signs that your teen might be experiencing thoughts of suicide.
- They are self-harming.
- They have stopped participating in activities they used to enjoy.
- They are giving away their possessions.
- They are saying goodbye to loved ones.
- They have less physical energy.
- They are abusing drugs or alcohol.
- They are reporting feeling alone or unsupported.
2. Ask them about suicide
A big misconception many people have is that asking at-risk people whether they have experienced suicidal thoughts might make the problem worse by potentially ‘putting thoughts in their head’.
However, there is no evidence to indicate that asking someone if they have been feeling suicidal will make them more likely to think about or attempt suicide. Instead, asking young people if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide can be immensely helpful. If a teenager is at risk, being asked about their feelings can give them a chance to be heard and feel less alone.
That’s why, if your teen has been displaying any of the warning signs listed above, it’s important to ask them something like this:
‘It sounds like you’re going through a tough time right now. Are you thinking about suicide?’
3. Ask questions about their experience
Before you can start to help your teen feel better, it’s important that you ask them lots of questions so that you fully understand what’s going on in their life.
Here are some examples of good questions you could ask:
- What’s making you feel this way?
- When did you start feeling this way?
- When you’re feeling bad about yourself, is there anything you do to cope?
- How do you feel when you talk to other people about this?
4. Help them find reasons to keep going
After you’ve talked with your teen about what’s going on in their life, you can help them find reasons to live. Some of the things you can talk with them about are:
the people they love, such as friends and family members
- interests they’re passionate about
- their religious beliefs (if they are religious)
- upcoming milestones in their life that might change their experience, such as starting university studies or joining the workforce.
5. Write down a safety plan
If a teenager is going through a tough time and thinking about suicide, the best thing for their safety is a supportive friend or a close family member such as yourself. A suicide safety plan puts that support in writing and helps in situations when you or your teen’s other support person aren’t around. In her suicide safety plan for her daughter, Sue included:
- the names and contact details of people Chloe could talk to if she was feeling down, including helplines such as Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids Helpline (1300 55 1800)
- activities she would enjoy doing to take her mind off things.