Teen suicide is a taboo subject. The thought of it creates anxiety, even in trained professionals. Anyone, teacher, coach, minister, parent, friend: none of us wants someone to die by their own hand on our watch, especially a child or teen.
But how do we help a child or teen (or even an adult) if we think there is a chance they might be thinking suicidal thoughts?
There are three simple but difficult steps to take, from the QPR organization.
Ask the Question
It’s hard, but we might be saving a life. “Have you been thinking about harming yourself or suicide lately?”
Of course, we need to couch the statement in the best way we can for the situation. But the way it is said isn’t as important as saying it.
Contrary to what some think, asking the question will not increase the chances of it happening. In fact, asking the question lets the other know that we noticed something and care enough to ask a hard question.
Persuade Them to Seek Help
Persuading begins with listening first. Listening builds trust and demonstrates care. Listen to understand, not fix, the problem. No judgment, advice or opinions. (I know, what else is left?)
If after listening we feel that the person might be in danger (we’ll talk about how to gage that in the following segments), the next step is to persuade them to go for help.
Once the person feels heard, offer to support them in seeking help:
- Will you go with me to see a counselor right now?
- Will you promise me you will call a counselor first thing tomorrow?
- Will you let me help you make an appointment to see someone?
If alcohol is involved, try to get it away from the person or the person away from it. Alcohol and suicidal thinking are not a good combination.
Make a Referral
Refer the person to someone who is trained to help them.
There are three qualities of referral to consider:
- The best referral is when the person agrees to go with you to see someone.
- The second best referral is when the person agrees to go and you know they kept the appointment.
- The third best is when they promise to go, but you don’t have any way of knowing if they actually saw someone.
In the case of children and teens it’s usually easier to make an appointment happen than it is with adults.
Is there a way to know when someone might be at risk for suicide?
All the sub-topics in this section on Teen Suicide are: