A child who is thinking about committing suicide doesn’t want to die. What they are really seeking is an end to the suffering that they are experiencing. It is driven by a desire to stop feeling the hurt that is underlying their remarks and intentions; and death is viewed as the only way to stop the pain and distress that they are experiencing.
Some parents will say that the kid is threatening to commit suicide just to get attention or to blackmail their parents. But what if the child is actually trying to communicate that they are suffering and that they don’t know how to act any differently to feel seen, heard, or loved? Suffering can be very intense and difficult for teenagers, and adolescence itself can be a factor when assessing the risk of a teen committing suicide. As a parent, it is important to pay extra attention to how your child is changing during this period.
There are a wide variety of situations that can trigger a person to commit suicide, but generally recognized triggers include:
- A major loss (for example: a breakup, a death, someone close to them committing suicide, loss of employment, being kicked out of school, running away, etc.)
- Increasingly problematic drug or alcohol use
- Recent suicide attempts
- A mental illness diagnosis or the worsening of a mental illness (depression for example)
- Experiencing psychological, physical, or sexual abuse by a family member, intimate partner, friend, or peer (intimidation)
- Experiencing a very challenging situation (a new family dynamic, arguments or conflict, abandonment, separation or divorce, a health problem, etc.)
- The sudden worsening of a personality trait (impulsiveness, being oppositional, aggressiveness, low self-esteem, etc.).
Signs my Teen is Thinking about Committing Suicide
These are verbal messages alluding to death, like “I’d be better off dead”, or “life’s not worth living anymore”, or “I won’t be around much longer”, or “I’m scared of killing myself”. They may be paired with suicidal threats along the lines of “I’ll kill myself” or “I want to die”.
These include messages like “I’ll be at peace soon”, or “I’m useless”, or “it was brave of so-and-so to commit suicide”, or “I’m going to take a long trip”, or “you’re better off without me”, and actions like preparing to go away, making final arrangements, writing goodbye letters, giving away items they hold dear, doing death-related activities, or taking a sudden interest in firearms or toxic substances.
Signs of Depression
Sleep disorders (insomnia or hypersomnia), eating disorders (anorexia or bulimia), lack of energy, occasional extreme fatigue or restlessness, increased anxiety, an inability to enjoy anything, and feeling sad (crying), hopeless, indecisive, irritable, angry, worthless, rage, and low self-esteem can all be signs of depression.
Physical and Psychological Isolation
Losing interest and enjoyment in activities, withdrawing from others, seeking solitude, cutting contact with friends and family members, refusing to speak, refusing to communicate, or a lack of emotion can all be signs of physical and psychological isolation.
Changes in Behaviour
Your child may lose attention in class, have difficulty concentrating, suddenly start skipping classes, see their grades slide, stop completing homework assignments or other work, become hyperactive or sluggish, become generally disinterested, become interested or preoccupied with death or reincarnation, change their appearance, become careless, or start excessively consuming alcohol, drugs, or medication.
My Teen is Thinking of Committing Suicide. What Should I Do?
If you think your child might be thinking of committing suicide, you can ask them expressly if that is the case and talk to them directly about your concerns. Addressing this topic head-on makes a child who is suffering feel heard and understood. This is a very important first step.
Assess the Level of Urgency
In this type of situation, it is always best to seek the help of a professional. It is difficult to remain objective as a parent. Bear in mind that some questions can help you assess the situation’s level of urgency. Ask your child directly if they are thinking of committing suicide. If they say yes, ask them if they have thought about when, where, and how they will do so. Also consider other factors that may trigger them to take action, such as:
- Are they alone?
- Are they impulsive?
- Have they previously attempted suicide?
- Are they distraught?
- Are they under the influence of a substance, or do they have a drug or alcohol problem?
It’s an Emergency
If they know where and how they will commit suicide and are planning to do so within 48 hours, it’s a suicide emergency that requires urgent care.
Call 9-1-1 or take them to the hospital immediately, and, if possible, keep them away from the method they intend to use to commit suicide. You want to keep them safe, buy time so they can change their mind and avoid them making a sudden attempt.
In some cases in which they might be thinking of committing suicide but not specify when, where or how, you may still choose to bring them to the emergency department if they exhibit signs of one or more factors that may trigger them to make an attempt.
Note that you can gauge your child’s impulsiveness by asking them to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being not at all impulsive and 10 being totally impulsive) how they feel they are in control of their desire to commit suicide. The less able they feel they are to control themselves, the higher the number will be, and the more worrisome the situation.
It’s Not an Emergency
In other cases, as an example, if your child is thinking of committing suicide but doesn’t have a detailed plan, or if they know when and where but plan to do so in more than two days and do not exhibit any other signs of factors that may trigger them to make an attempt, you can offer to refer them to a professional and talk to them about the importance of not keeping their suffering to themselves.
For example, your child can meet with a social worker at their school or go to a CLSC and tell the person at the reception desk they are having suicidal thoughts and need to speak to someone. They can also consult a psychologist in private practice.
Share your Worries with Them
In any and all situations tell your child that you are worried about them, that you love them, that you want to help them and support them in their search for solutions to help them feel better, and that you want them to stay alive. You can also tell them about an activity you hope to continue doing with them long into the future. You can also comfort your child when they are suffering, encourage them to identify their emotions, and care for them without judgement.
Finding out your child is thinking of committing suicide can be very challenging and very difficult to handle as a parent. In such cases, it is important to seek support for yourself as well, and to not keep your sadness, anger, or despair all to yourself. LigneParents and its professional counsellors are here to help.
The Suicide of a Friend
When a young person takes their life, their friends (perhaps your child) often feel devastated and guilty and think about suicide themselves. If your child experiences such a tragedy, they will be even more in need of your support, sympathy, and care, so be sure to:
- Listen to them and give them the space they need to verbalize their emotions when they feel ready. Encourage them, for example, to tell you how the situation makes them feel.
- Reassure them that how they are feeling is entirely normal.
- Encourage them to identify things they can do that might help them to regain some sense of control and, in turn, feel better.
- Watch for any signs of trauma or sudden changes in your child that you believe professional assistance could help them with.