What to do when you think your teenager is suicidal

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.

As a parent or carer, you may sometimes have gut feelings or hunches that you can’t explain. When you have a feeling that something is off with your child, it may be hard to know what to do, especially when you think they might be suicidal or their safety is at risk. Trust your instincts – the most important thing is to know that your child is safe.

Follow these prompts to find out what you can do if you think your teenager might be suicidal.

Ask your teen directly whether they’re thinking about suicide

graphic of parent and teen sitting together at table

When you’re unsure but have a hunch, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Asking someone directly about whether they’re thinking of ending their life doesn’t ‘plant the idea’ in their head. If you ask your teen, ‘Have you been thinking about suicide?’ and they say ‘no’, there’s no harm done. But if they say ‘yes’, you’ve just opened up the communication lines for them to get help, which is a massive step in the right direction.

Get some tips on talking to your teen about suicide here. After you’ve had a chat with them and heard their thoughts, you’ll have a much better idea of what the next best steps are.

If you don’t feel completely comfortable asking your teen directly whether they’re thinking about suicide, you can get some extra support below that will help you to tackle this conversation.

Find out if your teen is in any immediate danger

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If your teen has confirmed that they’re having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to find out whether they’ve already made plans to take their own life. Ask them if they’ve thought about how they would do it and if they’ve gathered anything to help them carry out their plan.

People who have a specific plan about how they would take their own life are generally at a higher risk of suicide. If necessary, you may have to remove items from your home to reduce the risk. From there, you can talk to your teen about making a safety plan they can use whenever they’re thinking about acting on thoughts of suicide.

If you think there’s an immediate risk to your teen’s safety, contact emergency services on 000.

Get some extra support to help you talk to your teen about suicide

graphic of teenager surrounded by his support network

Having a conversation about suicide can be uncomfortable, so it’s okay to get some extra support. Is there an adult that your teen trusts who could help you with this conversation? It could be another family member, a teacher, counsellor, community leader or even the older sibling of a friend of your teen.

Ask this other adult how comfortable they would be with talking to your teen with you about suicide. Sometimes, though, teens might be hesitant to talk about certain things with their parents, no matter how close you both are. So, if everyone involved is comfortable with the idea, the other adult could also talk to your teen privately.

Here is some more information about suicide prevention and teenagers, and tips for starting the conversation.

If you prefer to get advice from a professional, you can talk to a counsellor at one of these free hotlines. A counsellor may even be able to chat with your teen. Each state has a Parentline number to assist with any and all parenting enquiries. It can be useful to get a different perspective on the issue, which can help you decide what to do next, whether that’s having a chat with your teen or taking them to a GP. Some helplines also have an online chat service, if you prefer to text or type.

If you need assistance after hours, use one of the urgent help numbers here.

Make a GP appointment with your teen

graphic of parent and teen sitting on couch

If you’ve confirmed that your teen is having suicidal thoughts, or if they haven’t opened up to you or another adult, you may want to get some professional support.

A GP can support you to figure out the next best steps for looking after your teen and keeping them safe. You can chat alone with the GP first and share with them your concerns and what you’ve noticed. They can then talk to your teen alone to get a better sense of what’s going on with them. A GP can then refer your teen to a mental health professional who can help them manage their suicidal thoughts.

Many GPs and mental health professionals offer telehealth appointments, which can be beneficial if you live far from your local medical centre or can’t get an appointment. Use healthdirect’s ‘Find a health service’ feature to find your closest GP.

Get more information here about seeing a GP, including how to get bulk-billed appointments. When booking the appointment, you could ask for a GP who is good with teenagers and has experience with mental health and suicide.

Talk to someone about what’s going on

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It isn’t easy for any parent or carer to find out that their teen is having suicidal thoughts. What’s important is that your teen knows they have your support and that you’ll get through this time together.

Make sure to set aside some time to look after yourself and to process what’s going on with your teen. Chat with someone you trust and do something that helps you to recharge – for example, you could exercise, listen to music, cook or read. Find your self-care style here.

You could also contact a free parenting hotline, where you can chat to a counsellor about what’s going on. Once any immediate danger to your teen is over, check out the ReachOut Parents Online Community. Here, you can connect with other parents and carers, read about their experiences, comment to show your support, or post about your own experiences.

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