Suicide Prevention

Suicide is something most parents would rather not talk about. Unfortunately, it is more common than most would like to think. But suicide is often not a sudden event. It is a process. As a parent, becoming aware of the warning signs and being open to talking about suicide, you may be able to prevent it from happening.

If you are worried or concerned about your teen, here are some common questions you may find helpful.

What signs should you look out for?

People who feel suicidal often have an extreme sense of hopelessness or helplessness. They feel life is unbearable. When you talk to them, your teen may feel anxious. They may also show signs of depression which include:

  • sleeplessness
  • social withdrawal
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in usual activities

You may see a sudden change in their behaviour, particularly if it is out of character. For instance, your teen that is normally cautious suddenly becomes reckless. Other high-risk behaviour includes:

  • abuse alcohol or drugs
  • a major loss, such as the death of a loved one
  • increased aggression or fighting
  • any major changes in their life such as recent disciplinary or romantic crisis

A major sign is if your teen has made previous threats about suicide. Always take these seriously.

What should you do if you are concerned?

Talk to your teen

One of the main ways to prevent suicide or suicidal thoughts is engaging in open and honest communication. Ask your teen how they are feeling, particularly if they are going through a difficult time. They may have recently broken up with a girlfriend or boyfriend; failed an exam or had a decline in school performance; shown signs of an eating disorder; or have become involved somehow with the justice system. Whatever the case may be, if it is causing them to feel embarrassed or shameful, try talking to them about it. 

If you are worried that they may be having suicidal thoughts, ask them. Although it may be difficult to hear, encouraging them to speak about their suicidal feelings reduces the risk of an attempt.  Some parents may worry that talking about suicide gives a teen the idea or permission to consider suicide. But in fact, talking about suicide is one of the many ways you can prevent it from happening. Discussing it can provide comfort to your teen, especially if they are feeling incredibly isolated.

When you talk to your teen about suicide, try to stay calm, listen attentively and without any judgment. Comfort them and let them know that there are ways to get help. This will give them hope that they can get better and feel less isolated.

Limit access to lethal means

If you own a gun, make sure it is in a secure place in the home or remove it completely. Limit access to any household toxins that are ingestible, such as medicines, or cleaning liquids. Remove things like ropes or any other tools used to tie and hang objects.

Monitor your teen

As a parent you naturally wonder and worry about your teen when they are not at home or with you. When you are concerned about their mental health, it is important to be particularly watchful of their whereabouts.

Where do I go for help?

There are several helpful resources that can help your teen cope.

  • Call a crisis telephone support line. For a list across Canada, visit the Centre for Suicide Prevention
  • The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a wealth of information on mental illness, including how to promote mental well-being.
  • If you live in Ontario, call Tele-health to talk to a registered nurse about your concerns. Dial 1-866-797-0000. A nurse can direct you to the nearest hospital and health care professional in your area. You can call access this service seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Do all children need to see a psychiatrist?

No. Talking to your family doctor is often very helpful, particularly if your teen is feeling anxious or depressed. In some cases, your teen may find it helpful talking to a counselor. They are usually available at school, university, or within community services. Some teens may find talking to a religious or spiritual advisor helpful as well.

For severe mental illnesses, you should go to the hospital emergency room directly. You can find a list of mental health resources at the Canadian Mental Health Association.

For more information please read:

Suicide attempts in tweens and teens: What are the reasons?

Fewer gay teen suicides in supportive environments

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Johanne Roberge, MD, MSc, FRCP(c)