What Do You Say To A Young Child Who Might Be At Risk For Suicide?
How to deal directly with a situation involving suicide is tough no matter how informed someone might be about what to say, what not to say, where to go, who to refer someone to, or what resources to kill an individual. Sadly, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates are rising across all age groups including kids and teens. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, the 2nd leading cause of death for youth age 10-24 and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.
When talking with a child or teen who is, or might be, suicidal it is important to recognize there is no single cause for suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention discusses that suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair.
This is vital to remember because when talking with someone, and specifically a young child, focusing on just one issue won’t necessarily “solve” anything. Taking a step back, while not diminishing a singular issue, and trying to look at the whole picture of the different factors that are affecting the individual could be a more successful strategy.
The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide provides some of the best information for how to talk to young kids and teens who are suicidal. One of the most essential pieces of advice they give is:
“Don’t overreact or under-react. Overreaction will close off any future communication on the subject. […] ANY thoughts or talk of suicide should ALWAYS be revisited. Remember that suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in any other way.”
The Talk and the Aftermath
It takes a lot of courage to broach the subject to a child who is suicidal and is no small task. Starting the conversation, while difficult, is more approachable in today’s world than ever before as nearly 90% of Americans believe mental and physical are of equal value.
If there is no immediate concern for safety (in such cases, call 911) the best way to begin the conversation is to first show concern for some of the behaviors they’ve been demonstrating such as but not limited to talks about feeling hopeless, being a burden, drug or alcohol abuse, isolation, aggression, depression, or giving away prized items.
Next, and most surprisingly, it is good to ask directly about suicide. This approach gets right to the heart of the issue and allows you to help the child pursue the next steps whether it is informing their parents, school counselor, or in the case of if it is your child, begin seeing a mental health professional.
If you or someone you know is suicidal please seek out the following resources:
24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1)
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7