Teen Suicidal Tendencies

The current situation has created unique challenges for everyone. Here are some key signs to look out for if you’re worried about your teen having suicidal thoughts, what to say and where to go for extra support.

*Please note if your child or someone you know has just attempted suicide, is seriously injured or in a life-threatening condition please call 999 and stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

The information below is not intended as medical advice and is only intended to offer points you may wish to consider in ‘non-emergency situations’, together with signposting for more support. You should consult an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your child or someone you know.

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It goes without saying that this is a supremely challenging time for many of us. For teenagers coping with heightened emotions and hormonal changes - it can seem even more overwhelming, isolating and be even more difficult to handle and devastating than for other demographics.

One issue that may be concerning you is if your teenager if showing what you consider to be signs of suicidal tendencies or thoughts – or indeed if they are worried that one of their peers is showing signs.

While there are no hard and fast rules, it’s helpful to know some key signs to look out for and what to initially say and most importantly where to go for help if someone chooses to confide their feelings to you.

Four Key Signs to Look Out for

The key is often displayed by signs that they have lost their feeling of self-worth, are feeling a burden, that the world/their family would be better off without them. These can manifest themselves in a wide number of ways including (but not limited to)

Behavioural Signs - Look for behavioural changes such as being withdrawn, not enjoying activities they used to enjoy or be engaged by, giving things away they previously didn’t want to part with.

  • Please note in some cases that children may display a renewed optimism for life and it may seem like they have ‘snapped out of their depression’ but it may be a key warning sign that they have decided to take action.

    Verbal Signs – A change in the language they use when talking or voicing morbid thoughts such as “I can’t do this anymore.” “Who would miss me if I wasn’t here”, “what’s the point” as well as hints that they may soon be gone or won’t cause trouble for much longer.

    Physical Signs – Look for weight loss, lack of care in their appearance, poor hygiene, changes to a sleep pattern or increased use of alcohol or substances – as these are often tell-tale signals. Also keep alert for evidence of planning – collecting medication or randomly buying facilitating products like rope.

  • If your child has a history of self-harm, although this doesn’t necessarily lead to suicidal tendencies, its important to be aware of whether this has restarted or worsened.

Emotional Signs – they have a low mood, a fixation with death, may voice feelings of hopelessness, loneliness and feelings of worthlessness.

Tips on What to Say

  1. It’s widely acknowledged that if you have concerns you should point to the elephant in the room and ask your child directly “Have you/are you thinking about suicide?” This won’t ‘encourage’ your child to think about suicide but will help open up the conversation.
  2. Take any admission of suicidal feelings seriously. Do not belittle or undermine their feelings, treat them with respect and reassure your child they’ve done the right thing by telling you.
  3. Try to use neutral terms like trying to end your life rather than commit suicide and beware of your own body language try to avoid eye rolling, deep sighs etc which can compound their feelings of low self-worth.
  4. Be calm and patient with them and non-confrontational, non-judgemental and empathetic in your responses. Avoid platitudes like “you’ll feel better soon” or pick me ups as this is not the time – listening and responding to their comments is more important than positivity at this point.
  5. Make time to talk – and LISTEN. Don’t pressure them to talk but listen to what they have to say, you may feel able to ask about the issues behind their feelings or offer other avenues of professional support if they would prefer.
  6. Don’t dismiss attempts as unimportant or attention seeking – their actions are a means of trying to communicate and remember the level of injury does not relate to the degree of distress.

Your conversation may reveal how far progressed your child’s feelings are. Generally, the frequency of thoughts and the level of planning will correlate to the risk level of actually attempting suicide. This should help you determine your next steps – which can include a range of supports from talking to the GP, taking them to A&E, arranging counselling or calling the emergency services. If possible, try to enable your child to be part of the plan for the next steps.

Where To Find Support

NHS Every Mind Matters mental health support 

The Samaritans provide a free 24-hours a day, 7 days a week support service on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

Mind - the Mental health charity’s advice on wellbeing during Coronavirus

Young Minds mental health support including specific support to mental health wellbeing in the Coronavirus context.

The Ollie Foundation - suicide awareness and support

Papyrus - A service for young people who are thinking about suicide, or those with concerns about others.  Support line (10:00–22:00 weekdays/14:00–22:00 weekends): 0800 068 41 41,

Calm Harm - an app specifically targeted for young people’s mental health.

Students Against Depression - a site with resources for young people with low mood, depression and suicidal thinking.

Childline 0800 11 11 practical advice and helpline for a wide range of mental health and children’s support issues.

The Mix - a wide range of mental health support service for 13 – 25 year olds.

Shout 85258 a free 24-7 text service for anyone in crisis in the UK.

The Calm Zone - The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) a site specifically targeted at supporting men and preventing male suicide.

Learn Safe - family and young person supports for keeping safe online.

The Whole Child a range of parent resources to support 13-18 year olds

Happy Maps - a parent facing resource with advice on children’s behaviour and mental health

Sane  – support site for mental illness.

Rethink – expert information and listings of local resources and groups to support mental health.

* Please note that Bright Horizons has no control of the contents of third party sites and cannot assume responsibility for the operation or content of these sites.