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Supporting teens with suicidal thoughts

Sadly, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding suicide. But being able to talk about it makes it easier for young people to confide in someone if they’re having suicidal thoughts, and to ask for help.

Lots of parents worry that talking to their child about suicide will make it more likely to happen – but this isn’t the case. In fact, research has shown that talking about it is more likely to save a life than make things worse. 

Discovering your child is having suicidal thoughts is incredibly distressing for parents. But although it may feel hard to believe this when you’re going through it, it’s possible for your child to feel okay again.

What are suicidal thoughts?

Anyone can have suicidal thoughts at any time – thoughts that the only way to take control or escape an unbearable situation is to end their life.

Sometimes these thoughts can be triggered by a stressful or painful experience, like bereavement, bullying or abuse. Sometimes they are linked to other mental health conditions, like depression.

Suicidal thoughts don’t necessarily cause someone to attempt suicide, but they should always be taken seriously.

How can I tell if my child is feeling suicidal?

Sad teen wearing a hoodie, looking out to sea.

Sad teen wearing a hoodie, looking out to sea.

It can be hard to tell if your child is having suicidal thoughts, but there are some signs you can look out for. Bear in mind that these signs don’t necessarily mean your child is feeling suicidal, but it’s still important to talk to them if you spot any of them:

  • changes in their behaviour – for example, if they stop doing things they used to enjoy or they start behaving in a way that’s out of character
  • expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, sadness and/or guilt and shame
  • becoming withdrawn – stopping seeing friends and family and spending lots of time alone
  • losing interest in daily life over a period of time
  • saying things like ‘I wish I wasn’t here’, ‘I can’t go on’, ‘I can’t take it anymore’, or ‘people would be better off without me’, or talking about death a lot
  • giving away their belongings
  • eating and/or sleeping more or less than usual
  • losing interest in how they look
  • using drugs or alcohol to help them cope when they’re struggling
  • self-harming.

If you’re not sure how to approach the situation, you could talk to your GP, or contact an adviser at HOPELINE247 or another helpline (see ‘Getting help and support’ below).

However, the most important thing to do if you’re worried your child may be thinking about suicide is to ask them.

How do I talk to my child about suicidal thoughts and support them?

No parent wants to think that their child could be thinking about suicide. And many parents worry that talking to their child about suicide will put the idea into their head. But research has shown that this isn’t true, and that talking about suicide is more likely to save a life than make things worse. 

Here are some tips for having that difficult conversation, and for helping your child get through this difficult time.

Getting help and support

Support for young people

  • Childline offers free confidential advice and support for children and young people.
  • YoungMinds provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • If your child needs someone to talk to, Samaritans is available any time of day or night.
  • HOPELINE247, run by suicide prevention charity Papyrus, offers confidential support and practical advice via phone, text or email.

Support for parents

  • Anyone who’s concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide can contact HOPELINE247, which offers confidential support and practical advice via phone, text or email.
  • Parentline Scotland provides free advice and support on all aspects of parenting.
  • YoungMinds have a friendly, confidential parents' helpline and webchat service offering information, advice and signposting.

What to do in an emergency

If your child has already taken steps to end their life, you should get emergency help straightaway, either by taking them to A&E or calling an ambulance on 999.

If they go missing, you should call the police on 999. This won’t get them in trouble – the police have the resources to find people who are vulnerable to suicide and get them help.

You can find more advice on the YoungMinds and Papyrus websites.

Last updated: 29 Jan, 2024