Suicide Prevention – Five Tips All Parents Should Know

By Debra Oaks Coe – Suicide is an issue that touches many lives and is a concern every parent needs to take seriously. Suicide is often preventable; it is rarely impulsive. Most people think about it for a period of time that may last from a few days to weeks to months. Learning what to watch for can save lives.

Here are five tips all parents should know:

Watch and listen for warning signs. About 80% of the people that died by suicide spoke to someone about it before taking their life. Knowing what to listen and watch for is critical. Take all warning signs and suicide threats seriously. Warning signs can be direct verbal signs, indirect verbal signs, behavioral signs, or situational clues.

  • Direct verbal signs would include any statement where the person expresses acute pain and the desire not to live or “wake-up.” Examples are: “I wish I were dead,” or “I’m going to end it all.”
  • Indirect verbal signs would include statements that hint of suicide but do not actually state that they want to die. Examples are: “I’m just tired of it all.” “My family would be better off without me.” “Goodbye, I won’t be here when you return.” “You are going to regret how you’ve treated me.”
  • Behavioral signs include a large variety of observable acts. Examples are giving away prized possessions, making funeral plans, putting personal affairs in order, buying a gun.
  • Situational clues are events that put a person at higher risk. Examples are the death of a person they are close to such as a spouse, parent (especially if it is a youth), child, or close friend; diagnosis of a terminal illness; unwanted separation or divorce.

When you see warning signs, it is important to ask if they have had thoughts of suicide. Research shows that people who are suicidal feel relieved when asked if they have thoughts of suicide. They have a great need to talk with people that can empathize with and understand them. Most want to live and need help finding a way. This simple question reduces anxiety and increases hope. It is a fallacy that asking a person about suicide increases their desire to kill themselves. Instead, this simple question reduces anxiety and increases hope. There are many ways to ask a person if they are thinking of harming themselves. It can be direct or indirect. Find a way to ask that feels natural to you. This needs to be practiced so it feels comfortable to you.

Listen! Listen! Listen! Once you ask if they have thoughts of suicide, it is important to just listen. Most people at risk for suicide do want to talk. It is important to not interrupt, give them your full attention, and wait for the person to finish before speaking. Once you do speak, do not judge or condemn. Focus on the person and try to understand and empathize. This is the first step to helping them find a way to want to live. Empathy is truly the best when done correctly and with sincerity.

After active empathetic listening, it is important try to persuade the person to get help. You can recognize their pain while still helping them find alternative solutions. Assure them of your support and offer hope in all the ways you can. If possible, assist them in making an appointment with a mental health provider.

It is important for all adults to be trained in suicide prevention. Initially many people want to talk to someone they already know instead of a mental health provider. Help them with their initial choice. This can include any key person in their lives. Calling 211 can be helpful. It is a resource number to local health and human services and other resources. If it is a serious crisis call one of the suicide hotlines for help. More than 50% of the people that call these hotlines are the people helping instead of the person who is actually in crisis. Those hotlines are designed to help you know what to do.

See here for more tips and resources on suicide prevention.