father and son talking

How to Talk to Your Child About Suicide

Recent celebrity suicides have shed more media light on the issue of depression and suicide. Any time someone commits suicide, family, friends and acquaintances are left in shock and sadness. There is often an overwhelming question of why and why didn’t we know? These questions are also followed by feelings of guilt and regret for not having known how badly a loved one was suffering.

It can be a difficult and awkward topic for parents to discuss with their children, however it’s important to be direct and as honest as possible when speaking to children about depression and thoughts of self-harm.

Be direct and provide age appropriate information. Provide an explanation of mental illness that makes sense for your child’s age, maturity and level of understanding. For example, for a younger child you may say that ‘people’s thoughts and feeling are controlled by their brain and sometimes their brain gets sick the same way a body can get sick. When someone’s brain gets very sick, it sometimes makes them want to stop their body from working. For an adolescent or teenager, you may use more direct language.

Encourage your child to ask questions. Providing the opportunity to have a conversation about mental health opens the doors to further conversations and it also normalizes discussion about mental health in general. While it may be uncomfortable, try to remain present and listen to your child as much as possible. Practice reflective listening and ask open ended questions such as, ‘How do you feel about what happened?’ ‘What are your thoughts about what happened?’ ‘What questions do you have?’

Talk about the signs and symptoms of depression. If your child is a young adolescent or teenager, it’s a good opportunity to talk about how anxiety and depression affect someone’s behavior. This is the age where kids start sharing less with their parents and more with their peer group, so give your child helpful information so that if they or a friend is feeling depressed, they know what to do.

Finally, emphasize the importance of maintaining good mental health. Just as going to the gym regularly can help keep your body healthy, talking to a licensed therapist or counselor helps keep our minds healthy. Encourage your child to speak and use outlets for their feelings. Let them know who the counselor is in their school, discuss the value of therapy. Consider making an appointment for your child with a therapist if you have any concerns that they may be depressed or anxious.

*If you or your child is feeling suicidal, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. *