Conversations with our teenagers are vital in keeping them healthy and safe. CDC has reported an increase of adolescents who have had a suicidal attempt since 2020, the beginning of the pandemic (CDC, 2021). As a previous school counselor who did a lot of crisis counseling and worked with students who had suicidal thoughts, I want to encourage adults, parents, and educators to have these important conversations with your teens.
Ask the teen how they feel.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the most important thing we can do for our adolescents. Instead of asking about how their day went or about if they finished their homework, ask them how they feel today. You can ask questions like this: “How do you feel about what happened today?” or “How are you feeling today?” or “What are some emotions you feel regarding ____?” Middle and high school students would always tell me that they wish more adults would ask them how they feel instead of only asking them about tasks they need to get done.
Don’t be afraid to ask the teen if they are suicidal.
Many people believe that if they bring up the word “suicide” it is going to suddenly make the teen curious about it. Nope! It’s a myth. Research has proven that bringing up the word will NOT increase the level of suicidal thoughts in a teenager (NAMI, 2020). If a teen is thinking about it, their thoughts about it won’t increase just because someone asks about it. Parents, educators, and adults, please do not be afraid to ask your teen if they are suicidal. Many adolescents just need to be asked this question – so many adults in their life are afraid to ask, so the teen may not have a space to open up about their suicidal thoughts.
If your teen happens to say yes, ask if they have a plan. If they say they have a plan, consider seeking treatment and support, and do not leave them alone. If there are any items that they can use to hurt themselves, remove those items from their reach. During this process, encourage open communication and don’t be judgmental. Immediately reach out to a therapist and/or treatment center and ask for support. For an additional layer of protection, reach out to their school counselor and inform them of this too, so that they can keep an eye out at school. Since adolescents spend most of their time at school, it is important to have an adult at school who is aware of their suicidal thoughts and/or plan. The more eyes we have on our teen, the more we can protect them from doing anything rash.
Ask the teen about any protective factors.
The more hobbies and people the teen cares about, the more likely they are willing to stay alive. Ask about the adolescents’ hobbies, social circles, and values. See if there are any factors that may light up their interests or passions. If they talk about a hobby they enjoy, ask about it often and ask about their thoughts and emotions regarding it. As a therapist, I always start off my conversations with my clients about their protective factors. It helps me to better understand what they enjoy and what keeps them interested in living life.
Protective factors to ask about:
- Hobbies: What do they like to do in their free time? What clubs/sports/extracurriculars are they involved in?
- Social circles: Who do they spend time with? Who do they trust? Who would they turn to if they were going through a hard time?
- Physical health: Are they eating well? Are they drinking enough water? Are they spending an adequate amount of time exercising?
- Purpose/Values: What do they believe in? What do they value? What are some topics that get them stirred up? Do they believe they have a purpose in life?
- Self-esteem: What do they think about themselves? Do they believe they have the strength to overcome challenges?
If you have a teen who is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a therapist immediately. You can find a therapist with immediate openings at Austin Family Counseling by emailing [email protected].
Additionally, there are resources available that can offer immediate support:
- Call 988 (suicide hotline number)
- Call 512-472-HELP (Integral Care Mobile Crisis Team)
- Chat with a crisis counselor: https://988lifeline.org/chat/