“It’s important to not panic because one of the most important things is to get more information and get the fullest picture possible of what’s going on,” says McKeon. He advises anyone worried about suicide—including family members, friends and teachers—to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and get an assessment from a trained professional 24/7.
Because teens are more likely to communicate online than make a phone call, Lifeline recently added a chat function to their website. Lifeline can evaluate a person’s risk of suicide and identify mental health providers in your area who are specifically trained to handle suicide risk.
“The care, concern and support of friends and family can often be life-saving to someone who is in psychological pain and thinking of suicide,” says Boesky.
As a parent, you can stay better connected with your kids by getting to know their friends and being aware of the pressures they’re under. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and most importantly, be supportive, no matter what they’re going through. If you suspect a mental disorder, substance abuse problem or suicidal risk, take action immediately. The biggest mistake is doing nothing.
One in seven high schoolers reported seriously considering suicide in the last 12 months, according to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Parents need to engage in frequent meaningful conversations with their children, so they know what’s going on in their lives, no matter how much their teens roll their eyes or lock themselves up in their bedrooms.
“It’s really important for a parent, or anyone that suspects somebody is thinking of suicide, to ask them about it directly,” says Wagner. “If somebody is, they will normally give you a truthful answer.”
Asking the question in a direct, nonjudgmental way opens up the lines of communication and also helps differentiate between self-injury and attempted suicide.
“Some people worry that if they ask the question, they may put ideas in the person’s head. That’s a myth,” says McKeon. “There’s no evidence that you’ll be putting ideas into someone’s head who hasn’t been thinking about them already.”
Parents should look for warning signs that their child is contemplating suicide, including:
A dramatic change in personality
Giving away prized possessions
Withdrawal from friends
Engaging in risky behavior
Major changes in sleeping or eating habits
Increased alcohol or drug use
Talking or writing about death or suicide more than usual