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How to Have Proactive Conversations with Your Teen About Suicide

Have you found yourself wondering what your teen is thinking when it comes to suicide? Suicide, and particularly teen suicide, has been a hot topic in the media lately, and many parents are concerned.

If your teen isn’t yet showing strong signs of suicidal thoughts, or you have concerns even though your teen isn’t experiencing a mental health emergency yet, starting a conversation can be a great early intervention in preventing suicide.

Having proactive conversations with your teen about suicide is easier said than done for most parents, but can be vital for safety planning ahead of an emergency mental health crisis. Read on for a few ways to support your teen when it comes to talking about suicide. 

Talk about suicide in the media, and in life

In addition to wondering how to have proactive conversations with your teen about suicide, you may also be concerned about “suicide contagion”, where teens are inspired by media depictions of suicide, or their friends or someone close to them attempting or completing suicide. When a teen is already vulnerable, an example of suicide can make it seem like a viable option.

To prevent this, talk with your teen about how suicide is depicted in media, and get them help when they know someone who lost their life in this way, or are heavily impacted by suicide. The impacts of knowing someone who has attempted or been a victim of suicide can be intense, particularly for teens. Treat the situation as serious, even if your teen isn’t showing many outward signs of difficulty. An open dialogue, where your teen can safely share what they’re thinking with you, can help you understand their experiences and what they’re encountering day-to-day

Consider whether grief counseling or working with a therapist could give them extra support. See if getting involved in suicide prevention efforts at their school is a possibility, to help support all teens around your own when it comes to suicide as well. There are many ways a parent can become involved with their teen’s world when it comes to suicide prevention, and tapping into your community’s efforts can help you gain a sense of purpose and direction when it comes to discussing, and preventing, suicide. 

Help your teen develop problem-solving skills for life

Teens are navigating a tough world, at an intense time in their lives. Increasing independence and increasing stress means your teen may feel adrift. Helping them strengthen their life skills, so they can navigate interpersonal relationships, emotional intensity, and have resilience in the face of distressing situations, can be a great support to help them before their mental health struggles reach crisis levels. 

A great place to start with developing life skills is in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is a highly effective tool for preventing suicide and self-harm in teens and was deliberately constructed specifically to help reduce the intensity of suicidal thoughts and provide more control over responses to emotions and experiences. 

 

 

A major component of the success of DBT is the use of multiple skills and practices to cope in healthy ways and develop fuller self-awareness. Skills in mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance are practiced when your teen is in DBT, both individually and in group therapy. Having the support and understanding of peers in group therapy—where they can practice these skills with people the same age—can be a critical support in helping your teen thrive. 

These DBT skills are useful to teens, but they’ll also give your teen a head start on developing into an emotionally healthy adult. The skills are useful in facing life’s challenges, which we all know come up frequently. Giving your teen the ability to weather life’s storms, now and in the future, can be a great head-start to preventing suicide. 

Encourage strong connections in your teen’s life

Social media is a major source of socialization for teens today, but it’s a murky world that can do more harm than good sometimes. Encourage your teen to spend time with friends and family in person. Schedule in-person activities, help them attend fun events like concerts, movies, and more, and get them out into the world. If your teen is part of a marginalized group, look for ways for them to connect with people who understand them. These strong connections build sources of trust for your teen, people they can lean on and talk to when things are hard. Having close connections and a strong community can make a huge difference in preventing suicide. 

Start the social media conversation

Open a dialogue with your teen about what’s going on for them in social media as well. Online bullying, abuse, and witnessing violent events through social media can all have serious impacts on your teen. Engage with them honestly and openly, not punitively, when they tell you what they see or hear. Take a look at your own social media use, and consider whether you should take a break from screens as well. Connect with your teen in the real world, and make it easy for them to spend time connecting with others.

Find extra support with a therapist who works with teens

Early connection with a therapist—particularly one who is trained and experienced in spotting the signs of suicidal thoughts in teens—can help your teen to prevent suicide and it’s effects on your family.

Working on untangling the roots of your teen’s mental health struggles, connecting your teen and your family to the skills needed in life to thrive, and helping your teen develop a stronger sense of self-worth, boundaries, and emotional resilience and control are all possible, particularly when working with therapists like those at Suffolk DBT. Contact us today, to see how we can help your teen, and your whole family, to prevent suicide before an emergency happens.

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