“I don’t want to live anymore,” “I’m not going to be around anyway,” “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up,” or even more clearly “I’m going to kill myself”. How does a parent respond to this? Of course you’re concerned, probably very anxious. Perhaps you think “maybe they’re just saying this for attention…..or…..maybe they mean it.” Or maybe you think they may mean it at this very second but the impulse will pass quickly. Or perhaps you’re angry because you are in the midst of an argument with your teen and the thought occurs to you, “they’re just trying to manipulate me emotionally to get what they want”. If your teen is talking about suicide, here are some practical and timely actions to take:
1. Stop and Listen. Be still for a moment. Maybe you’ve just been in an argument with your teen or maybe you’re very afraid. Just listen and use any skills you possess to draw out your teen and allow them to reveal their struggles and feelings. They probably are feeling very alone with their struggles and sometimes, a person needs to feel his or her burden is shared. You may feel an impulse to jump in and give them advice or give them perspective. Don’t rush to that. When someone feels so hopeless and desperate that they make suicidal statements, they are thinking emotionally, not rationally, and if you immediately start using logic, they’ll just feel less understood and more alone.
2. Call your teen’s psychotherapist if they are in psychotherapy.
3. Call 911 if you’re concerned a self-injurious behavior is imminent.
4. Call 1-800-SUICIDE in Colorado for advice for you or for someone to whom your teen can talk immediately. Click here to see their website.
5. Find a therapist , if your youth doesn’t already have one. Look for a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in treating adolescents. Often, but not always, a teenage girl will work better with a female psychotherapist and a teenage boy will work better with a male psychotherapist. You know your child’s adult relationships and can best judge which gender therapist to look for or if gender even matters at all. Check the Psychology Today website for psychotherapists practicing near your zip code.
You can also try calling a nearby hospital with an adolescent psychiatric unit. In Colorado you might call Children’s Hospital or Centennial Peaks. There is also an extensive list of mental health agencies on the endteensuicide.org website.
6. Lock it up. Get weapons, pills, ropes etc. out of the house or locked up.
7. Don’t let them be home alone and check on them often.
8. Try some “mood changers”. You may know for yourself that watching a funny or uplifting movie, talking with friends, going for a walk, exercising or walking the dog can change your mood. Get your teen to do one of these with you. Obviously, this is only a short term solution, but it is something practical you can do for the short term and, if it helps a little, it teaches your teen that impulses come and they go and that there are practical things they can do should they have another suicidal impulse in the future
9. Remind your teen of the people who love him or her. If you think your teen is angry at some of them (or you) and would like for them to feel guilty and horrible then don’t talk about how guilty and horrible that person would feel should the teen kill himself or herself. Otherwise, make it clear how a suicide would affect your teen’s loved ones.
10. Don’t fool yourself that doing any or all of these things is enough. When people are experiencing long and intense depressions, they are going to need more than “mood changers”. When social or family conflict is ongoing and your teen is angry and alienated, talking to them.
This blog does not create a doctor/patient relationship. Dr. Mary Zoglo is a licensed psychologist only in the State of Colorado, USA, and can give specific mental health advice only to her patients. This blog is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical, psychiatric or psychological advice. See full disclaimer.