How to Get Help for Suicidal Teenagers

Tips to Talk to a Teen Threatening Suicide

Take any threats of suicide very serious.

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Hearing a teen say things like, "I should just go kill myself," should be cause for alarm. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. 

If your teen brings up the subject—even if you think it's a bid for attention—address it right away. Unfortunately, many teens complete suicide every year and often their stunned friends and family say they never imagined their loved one would do it.

Press Play to Learn More About Suicide & Suicidal Ideation

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychiatrist Mark Goulston, shares why people have suicidal thoughts, why you shouldn't blame yourself if you've lost someone to suicide, and what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts. Click below to listen now.

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Teen Suicide Facts

If your teen is talking about or threatening to commit suicide, there are some things you should understand. There is a part of your teen that doesn't really want to die. Teens contemplating suicide likely feel utterly hopeless, out of control, and unable to cope. The pain they are experiencing is intense and substantial, and at this moment suicide seems the only way out.

Suicidal teens are looking for a way to stop their emotional pain. They are tired of hurting and tired of feeling like no one understands what they are going through.

Warning Signs

Some of the potential warning signs that a teen may be suicidal include talking about or threatening suicide. Mood swings, changes in routine, withdrawal from friends and family, risky or self-destructive behaviors, and giving away possessions are also signs that a child may be thinking about or at risk of suicide.

What to Say to a Suicidal Teenager

If you suspect that your teen is considering suicide, talk about it immediately. Take it seriously and don't dismiss it as acting out, looking for attention, or teenage drama. Contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide doesn't plant suicidal ideas in their heads.

In fact, addressing the topic head-on can do the very opposite by helping your teen to know what to do if they have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. It can help them identify a problem and know how to ask for help.

If your teen mentions wanting to die or wishing they were dead, encourage them to talk to you about their distress.

These strategies can help your teen start talking:

  • Ask your teen to share whether a specific incident led to suicidal thoughts. Ask a question such as, "What happened? I want to know more, it might help to talk about it."
  • Don't invalidate your teen's feelings. Avoid saying things that may be perceived as empty or unhelpful such as, "You should appreciate all you have in life," or "I think you're overreacting." Those reactions downplay your teen's pain.
  • Encourage your teen to describe what they're feeling. Say something like, "I had no idea things were so bad for you, talk to me about what's going on."
  • Show acceptance. Listen without verbalizing judgment or disagreeing with their statements or feelings.

Ask if your teen has a specific plan for suicide. The more specific the plan, the higher the risk. 

After gaining a better understanding, it's important to offer your teen emotional support. Use the suggestions that best fit you, your teen, and the situation:

  • Be specific and direct. As compassionately as possible say to your teen,
    "I do not want you to hurt yourself and I will do everything possible
    to keep you from committing suicide."
  • Explain that you understand your teen feels miserable. Say something like, "It sounds like you've given up" or "I think you feel there's no way out."
  • Gently point out that suicide is not a solution. Try saying something such as, "I know there are options that could help, I'd like you to at least try them."
  • Let your teen know you are worried. Don't downplay your concern about their well-being.
  • Promise to be there for your teen. Do whatever it takes to get them through this. Provide reassurance by saying something like, "You are not alone. I am here to help you now that I understand how bad things really are for you."
  • Remind your teen of your unconditional love. Now is the time to show how much you care.

Make Safety the Top Priority

A teen who is talking about suicide could be in immediate danger to themself. Take your teen's comments seriously. There are a few things you can do to make safety a top priority.

  • Remove dangers: First, remove all dangerous implements or substances from the immediate area.
  • Stay with your teen: Make sure your child is not left alone during this crisis.
  • Seek help: Once the immediate danger has been addressed, get ongoing help for your child. Therapy can treat and address underlying mental health issues and is crucial to alleviating your teen's distress.

Factors that can increase the risk of teen suicide include having a psychiatric condition (such as depression or anxiety), bullying issues, interpersonal issues, and substance use. Getting your teen help with such issues is an important part of suicide prevention.

A Word From Verywell

Teen suicide is a serious concern and you should never dismiss suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Take any sign of suicide seriously, show your child understanding and compassion, and ensure that they are safe until you can get them the help that they need.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. CDC Wonder. Underlying cause of death, 1999-2020 results: Deaths occurring through 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk and protective factors.

  3. Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We can all prevent suicide.

  4. Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Help someone else.

  5. Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (BPBH) Office of Suicide Prevention. The myths and facts of youth suicide.

  6. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Suicide in children and teens.

  7. Minnesota Department of Health. Suicidal Ideation Risk Assessment.

By Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW
Kathyrn Rudlin, LCSW, a writer and therapist in California specializes in counseling and education for teenagers with mothers who are emotionally disconnected.