Look after yourself when your child is in distress

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.

Talking to your teen about suicide, or supporting them through a crisis, is likely to be emotionally draining for you. During the conversation or crisis, it’s normal to feel emotions such as guilt, anger, panic or resentment, but it’s more helpful to keep these in check and to stay calm in order to better support your child. However, after the event, you need to look after yourself by checking in on your emotional responses and by getting help and support if you need it.

Remember that this doesn’t make you a bad parent

It’s common to feel like your teen is going through this tough time because you did something wrong as a parent. Try to remember that there could be a whole range of reasons why your teen is having suicidal thoughts, and the important thing now is that you focus your efforts on helping them to get better. By supporting them, you’re showing your teenager that you love and care about them through the hard times.

Talk to someone about what’s happening with your teen

When your teen is experiencing such high levels of emotional pain, it’s easy to overlook your own needs. It might be hard, but it’s good to talk to someone else about what has happened so that you can relieve your own distress and share the load. This might mean talking to a friend, partner or someone else who you (and your teen) feel comfortable with knowing about the situation – maybe even a counsellor.

If you’re talking to someone who isn’t a trained professional such as a school counsellor, a GP or a psychologist, it’s important to give them a heads-up about what you want to talk about. Ask them whether they’re in a good headspace at the moment and if it would be okay for you to chat about what’s happening with your teen. Try not to be offended if someone says it’s not a good time for them. They might be having a hard time themselves and don’t feel well enough for a conversation about something distressing, or the topic of suicide may be a bit too close for them.

Take care of your own physical and mental wellbeing

When you’re feeling run-down or emotionally exhausted from what’s happening, it’s important to actively make time to look after yourself. If you’re processing your emotions and feeling refreshed, you’ll be in a much better mindset to support your teen. Try the following:

  • Prioritise your physical health. Things that seem ‘simple’ are often the most effective in boosting our mood and resilience. Make time to exercise, get out in the fresh air and sunlight, try to eat nutritious meals and get enough sleep.

  • Set boundaries with other people and yourself. When you’re running on low, commitments like work and other relationships can still demand the same attention from you. Setting boundaries will help you to focus on recharging and supporting your teen. For example, you could let your workplace know that your family is going through a tough time and you need to take some time off to support them. Or you could tell friends that you may not be available for catch-ups for a few weeks.

  • Schedule relaxation time. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in everything we have to do, including things we enjoy doing. Taking 15–20 minutes a day just to relax can sometimes be all you need.

  • Focus on what you can control. It’s common to think about what went wrong or what you could have done, but that won’t change that your teen is going through a tough time. Focusing on what you can control, like how you can support them now, will help you to feel more grounded and empowered.

  • Find things to look forward to. Looking positively towards the future will help you to get through a tough time. Maybe you’re excited about seeing a new movie that’s coming out, or trying a new local restaurant or catching up with a friend.

Find extra support for yourself

Educating yourself about what’s going on, and finding support groups, are other ways of looking after yourself and reducing the emotional load.

You could:

  • Try to find other parents in similar situations by attending workshops, or local or online support groups. Local councils, libraries, community centres and places of worship often host support groups.

  • Connect with other parents and carers on the ReachOut Parents Forums. Read about other people’s experiences, comment on a post to show your support or give advice, or make a post of your own.

  • Chat with a counsellor by calling Lifeline (13 11 14) or Suicide Callback Service (1300 659 467). They also offer text and online chat services.

  • Call Parentline Australia, which offers free telephone counselling for parents and carers. Find your state’s Parentline number here.

  • Visit your GP or counsellor to chat about what’s going on and get some ongoing professional support for yourself.

Showing your teen that you are invested in helping them while also looking after yourself will encourage them to be more positive about seeking help and looking after themselves, too.

Page last reviewed by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on 15/04/2016.

Did you find what you needed?

  • I need to know more - Read our factsheet about suicide.