September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to bring awareness to a critical and highly stigmatized topic. According to the CDC, suicide rates increased by 2.6% from 2021 to 2022 in the US. Further, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth and young adults in the US and rates among this group have increased 52% from 2000-2021.
While suicide is a heavy and difficult subject, statistics show that discussing suicide in a safe, non-triggering manner has never been more important. Avoiding the topic only perpetuates the issue, creating stigma and shame for those suffering with suicidal ideation.
To help reduce the stigma, creating an open dialogue with your child around suicide, emotional resilience, and mental health overall can help. Here are some ways to discuss suicide at various developmental stages as well as behaviors or warning signs to look out for. Starting the conversation can be daunting but that conversation could change or save someone’s life.
- Young Children/Elementary-Age:
Introduce the topic gently and simply. Let your child lead the conversation and keep your responses brief and age appropriate. Try to connect the discussion to a concrete scenario to help solidify understanding.
- “Uncle Joe passed away from a sickness that affected the way he thinks and feels. When you feel sad or scared, it’s important to talk to someone you love and remember bad feelings don’t last forever.”
- Middle School/Pre-teens:
By middle school, talk to your pre-teen about the subject in more detail while educating them on how to recognize warning signs in themselves and in others. Acknowledge the intensity of emotions during puberty, emphasizing that “big” emotions and negative feelings are natural and okay, but they are temporary and there is always someone to talk to about these feelings.
Ask them about what they’ve seen or heard about mental illness and suicide from their peers and on social media; this will give the opportunity to correct any misinformation or misconceptions. Cultivate an environment of trust by openly asking about their thoughts and experiences around suicide or self-harm, fostering open communication.
- “Becoming a teenager can feel confusing or even make you sad or angry. Please know you can always talk to me about it, no matter how big or ‘ugly’ the feelings might be.”
- Teens/High School
Teens and high school-aged adolescents may have already encountered mental health conditions among their friends or acquaintances, making it critical to build upon previous conversations so your teen is well-equipped at school and in their personal life. And with an increasing number of anti-LGBT legislation and school policies being implemented or considered in California and across the country, it’s even more important to be consider the mental wellbeing of queer and trans youth right now. Encourage open communication by discussing what to do if they or a friend were experiencing suicidal ideation and emphasize that mental health conditions are not a form of weakness and seeking help is an act of courage.
- “We received a note from your principal that a student at your school passed away by suicide. How are you feeling? If you ever feel like life is too much, there are so many people in your life who are here to help you.”
Equip them with accessible resources that can help save lives, like speaking to trusted adults in their lives or any of the local and national resources below:
- National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988, any time, from anywhere.
- The Source
- Sacramento Youth Mental Health
Know the Signs of Suicidal Ideation:
It may be difficult to tell if someone is struggling or considering suicide, but there are patterns and behaviors you can watch out for in your family and friends:
- Talking or joking about wanting to die or suicide
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Changes in eating habits (increase/decrease of food intake)
- Changes in sleep
- Reckless behavior
- Putting affairs in order
- Giving away possessions
- Feeling hopeless, desperate or trapped
- Uncontrolled anger
- No sense of purpose
- Sudden changes in mood
If you are concerned that someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are ways for you to help. Know the signs to look out for, and call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 if you need someone to talk to. If you or someone you know are looking for more resources, talk to your healthcare provider or dial 2-1-1 to be referred to local recovery-focused mental health services in Sacramento County.