9/7/22 blog post
talking with kids about suicidal thoughts
It’s scary when a child expresses suicidal thoughts or is struggling with mental health concerns. But multiple studies show that asking about suicide is not harmful and can be empowering. Giving a child a safe space to talk about their struggles and difficult feelings can save a child’s life.
how do I start creating a safe space for them to talk?
- Talk to your child often – don’t wait for a crisis. Build a habit of chatting with your child on a regular basis about how things are going. We have conversation starters to lead the way.
- Ask open-ended questions that allow your child to openly explain their thoughts and feelings to allow for deeper sharing.
- Be an emotional support. Some children worry that their strong feelings should be hidden. Research shows that addressing intense emotions directly can reduce how long they last. As you allow them to share even hard feelings, you show them that it’s okay to feel all emotions.
- Ask directly about thoughts of suicide. Your child may not be having these thoughts, but you’re showing that it’s important and okay to talk about serious emotional concerns with trusted adults. Many children have heard of suicide and may have questions or confusion about it.
- Look for mood changes or behavior warning signs. If your child suddenly stops enjoying something that they’ve always loved or has significant changes in eating or sleeping, you should talk to them about what is going on.
what if a child says they have thoughts of suicide? How do I respond?
- Try to stay calm. Thinking that way doesn’t mean you or your child has done anything wrong.
- Thoughts of suicide are often related to illnesses such as depression and anxiety. These can improve with mental health treatment.
- Get support from a mental health professional to help your child. It can give you a sense of hope.
- Work with mental health professionals to develop a safety plan.
free download: conversation starter cards
Suicide can be a tough topic to discuss and talking with children directly about suicidal thoughts can be even tougher, but it can help kids who are struggling know they're not alone.
Download this worksheet and cut out the cards if you need help starting the difficult conversation.
You can give children the power to talk about mental health concerns. This will build resilience and break stigmas around discussing emotions.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, go to the nearest emergency room or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
where can I find more resources?
Feeling lost about how to help kids with their mental health? Dayton Children's offers two free trainings to help the community address these difficult topics. Learn more about QPR and Mental Health First Aid training today.
If you’re looking for more ways to support others and discuss mental health, join the movement of On Our Sleeves. We believe that no family should struggle alone in their journey with mental health. Check out more resources and guides, here.