How to talk with your Teen about a Classmate’s suicide:
First-Notice your own reactions: You may feel strong emotions, like sadness, worry, or uncertainty about bringing up the topic, Don’t avoid it because it’s difficult or you’re worried that it might make them feel worse.
Prepare yourself to listen. (Check out my video on empathic listening). Let them talk about any of their concerns. It’s ok if there’s long periods of “I don’t know” or silence. Ask open ended questions like:
What have you heard about this person? What do you think about it?
How are your friends reacting? What are they worried about?
Instead of asking if your teens or their friends have experienced mental health conditions or thought of suicide ask when. At least 30 percent of teenagers experience a mental health challenge during high school.
Don’t get stuck in speculation: Don’t dwell on reasons why or methods of how the child ended their life.
Remind your child that it is not his/her fault. It’s common for teens (and others) to feel responsible or wish they could have prevented it. Encourage them to convert those feelings of sadness into taking action in the future, to be more open and seek help.
Help them Process through Emotions: Dealing with grief and the complicated nature of suicide takes time to figure out, continue to check in with them over the next weeks or as long as it seems to impact them. Help your child process their thoughts and emotions by making a safe place to be with you even if they don’t want to talk about it.
Sometimes teens respond to painful emotions by engaging in risk-taking behaviors, talk with your child about some strategies to healthily work through intense emotions (like talking with others, writing about it, healthy physical activity, etc).
Caring for your own child’s safety:
Youth are at higher risk for suicide when there have been recent suicides in their community. Especially if your child has a history of depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts:
Ask directly if your child is feeling depressed or having thoughts of suicide, this won’t plant the idea in their mind. Use this time as an opportunity to express your love and strengthen your connection with them.
Listen first, create a safe space for them. Don’t dismiss their thoughts or feelings, but take action as needed to keep them safe.
Help them access outside resources, like a therapist, school counselor, doctor, or educational support group as needed.
If you believe they are at risk, reach out for professional support immediately. You can contact a licensed therapist or take them to the hospital or call 911
Let your child know how devastated you would be if they died.Sometimes depression convinces people that they are such a burden that others would be better off without them.
Add barriers to a child’s access to means of suicide. Lock up guns and medication or take other preventative steps. If we can slow down their access, we may be able to get them help before they take action.