Talking about suicide is a hard thing to do, especially if it involves your young person. If your adolescent is thinking of suicide, they may be feeling overwhelming anxiety, or feel as though they hate themselves and do not deserve to live. They may have racing thoughts that prevent them from concentrating or even getting to sleep. Alternately, they might feel tired all the time, with little motivation to do anything other than sleep. Stress, conflict, unhealthy relationships, hardships, mental illness, and substance use are all factors that can lead to thoughts of suicide. Along with these feelings, they may also feel alone, as though no one would understand what they are going through. It is important to let them know that this isn’t the case. Reassure your young person as frequently and gently as you can that they are loved and appreciated. About one in four people will experience a mental health challenge before the age of 18 and it’s more common than we think. Sometimes it may seem easier for your young person to keep these thoughts to themselves. They might feel that if they were to open up about their feelings, they would be a burden to you, other family members, or friends. They may feel hopeless and that they have nowhere to turn. Gentle reminders that you are there for them to listen and support them no matter what can make a big difference in helping them to open up about how they are feeling. Perhaps they may think that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that they should be able to deal with what they are going through on their own. Nobody needs to go through this alone and your support and love as a caregiver can help them put a voice to their thoughts, which is often the first step in helping them get better.
Remind them often that they are not a burden; they are not alone, you are always there for them no matter what. Reinforce to them that having the courage to seek help when they need it is admirable and a sign of strength. For them, reaching out means that they are ready to get the support that they need and deserve. Make sure they know that you, along with the help of mental health professionals if needed, can help relieve the pain they feel and there is no shame in asking for support. Encourage them to reach out to you or anyone they trust and feel comfortable with. Sometimes it is easier for young people to talk to a trusted close friend about what they are going through, before they open up to a caregiver. This is perfectly normal and is a great first step for them to realize their needs and ask for support. The more they can give voice to the harmful feelings they are having, the less control those thoughts will have over them, which will increase the chances they will get the help they need. Starting the conversation with a caregiver can be nerve-racking for them, but with a close friend by their side they may feel calmer and more comfortable. Taking the first step is what counts. If you feel like they are hesitant to open up to you, sometimes starting the conversation and expressing gentle caring and concerning thoughts can help them start talking and ease them into a deeper conversation about how they are feeling.
If for some reason, as a caregiver, you don’t feel comfortable in this role or your young person resists opening up to you, there are resources and support systems out there that your young person can access which are offered nationally or even within your own community. Reaching out to a crisis hotline will give them the tools to access an experienced counselor who can help them brainstorm strategies specific to their needs. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t need to be in crisis to talk to someone on one of these hotlines. Hotline counselors are trained to listen and can help them with a mental health issue no matter how small. By calling a crisis hotline or contacting some of the other resources below, they can get started on a path to a brighter future. Please urge your young person not to keep what they are feeling to themselves. They are not alone, they matter, and they deserve help.