How Parents Can Help Prevent Suicide


Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds (first is accidental injury). That means more young people die from suicide in a year than cancer, heart disease, and school or gang violence.   As scary as that is, even scarier are studies reporting that suicide is not on the top 10 list of things parents worry about.

I returned this week from the 49th annual American Association of Suicidology Conference in Chicago. 1200 clinicians, crisis center staff, researchers, loss survivors and more gathered to address this important topic. It was truly inspirational to be around so many people dedicated to reducing stigma and preventing suicide.

Suicide truly is a public health crisis. It affects every race, culture, age and socioeconomic group. A few months ago, I wrote about not being afraid to talk to your kids about suicide, and I stand by that sentiment. ( Asking a suicidal person about suicide doesn’t put the idea in their head; it generally offers relief and gives them permission to talk about it.

As parents, our job is to prepare our kids for the future-the good and the bad. We can’t avoid dealing with certain things by not talking about them. We can think (and hope) they are too young to know about or experience things like depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, but from my experience, they know and feel more than we think. Start conversations early (in age and maturity appropriate terms) to decrease stigma and show them you are a safe haven for their big feelings.

90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness; many times untreated or hidden away.   Depression and anxiety can often run in families. Make sure your kids know that they can come to you when they feel sad, scared, or alone, and you will support and not shame them for their feelings.

We do know that most teens who attempt suicide give warning signs ( ) A dramatic change in appearance or behavior, a decrease in motivation, drop in grades or even comments like “things would be better if I weren’t here,” are red flags for intervention. A breakup, loss of a friendship or death of a loved one can be triggers for a teen who is already struggling. We can’t be too scared to ask the questions or think “not my kid.”

We also need to teach our kids to look out for their friends and know when their friend’s secrets are too much for them. In our suicide prevention outreach, we say: “a mad friend is better than a dead friend.” There is help and hope if the teen can access it. With intervention and support, most suicidal teens do not grow up to be suicidal adults.

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  1. Thank you so much this is a great information

  2. ConcernedMom says:

    Should I take my 5-year-old seriously when he talks about killing himself?

    1. TEEN LINE says:

      I believe that any time anyone, even a 5 year old, talks about killing himself, it should be taken seriously, and follow up questions should be asked, like what does he mean by that? Do he have any ideas of what he would do? I would also wonder what else is going on with him. Thanks so much for reaching out.

  3. Concerned mother says:

    Help for my daughter. She is 22 years old and showing lots of signs of depression, low self-esteem and suicide comments. I don’t know what I can do to help. She has been seeing a doctor but always feels pushed off by them. She is dwindling down and I see it all before my eyes. I don’t know what I can do to help her beside talk to her. I just don’t feel like that is going to help anyone.

    1. TEEN LINE says:

      Hi Chrissy,
      Thanks for reaching out. It’s so hard to see someone dwindle before your eyes. If she feels pushed off by her doctor, is it possible to see another one? I would definitely make sure you give her the Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255 and encourage her to call. She can also text Crisis TExt line at 741741. There are also some apps that provide support, like My3 and Virtual Hopebox. Both are free.
      You can also be a huge support for her by listening without judgment and providing support and encouragement. Perhaps helping her remember times she’s coped with other hard situations or helping her get involved in things she cares about.
      And be sure to take care of yourself, it’s hard to watch a loved one struggle.
      Best of luck.

  4. Michelle says:

    I need help. My 19 year old son has shown all signs and now made comments about killing himself. He recently lost his girlfriend and best friend when they cheated together on my son. H lost his father to suicide and mental illness runs in my family. I’m desperate. We recently moved and have not been able to find a psych that will see him in under 1.5 months. He’s reached out and feels cheated no one will help him. His older brother is on a 5150 at this moment. I feel like this is all my fault for not taking action sooner and I need help to help him.

    1. TEEN LINE says:

      Hi Michelle,

      I’m so sorry your son is struggling so much. I understand how desperate you must feel. Please don’t blame yourself for taking action sooner; you are taking action now. If you feel that he is not safe, please take him to your nearest emergency room and have him assessed. It sounds like he definitely needs help and support and you are trying to get that for him. Please make sure he has the suicide prevention hotline 800-273-8255 and Crisis Text line at 741741.
      Please take care of yourself as well. You mention his older brother is in the hospital as well which is incredibly stressful on you. It’s important you get some support as well.
      As hard as it is to hear and see, I’m glad that he is reaching out for support, and has a caring mother who is trying her best to help.
      Best of luck,
      Teen Line Parents

  5. Christopher Holden says:

    How do I get my son to see a psychologist if he does not want to go?

  6. Isabel Mena says:

    My 16 year old daughter Chasity hates me and is suicidal. She was malested for years by ex partner who is not her father. He is currently in jail but the damage is done. She has anger outburst, suicedal thoughts and thoughts of hurting others. Regarless of all the therapy she has been through she is not getting the help she needs. I have given up on researching help because it’s not getting any better. I strongly blame myself for not being there and that want to help I feel I can’t and I am loosing my little girl. Please advice on how I can help her?

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