Suicide Prevention

Conversations with kids and teens #WorldSuicidePreventionDay #RUOKDay

In 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death in children aged 5 to 17 years in Australia (Source). This is a significant increase since 2006. It can be quite scary for a parent to know this and not know what to do. While a lot of people will be quick to blame social media, my clinical experience tells me it’s a variety of factors including genetics, stressful lifestyles, a disconnected society, poor emotional regulation skills and yes, social media among others.

As a parent, what can you do?

Being mentally well

We all have days when we feel sad, withdraw or worry. It’s normal and a part of life. The biggest difference between being sad for a few days and being depressed is seen in a child’s functioning. Being mentally well usually means a child is engaging in daily activities such as attending school or extra-curricular activities as well as their social commitments.

Signs of being mentally unwell

It is important to be able to understand some of the signs of deteriorating mental health in children and adolescents.

  • Low mood that lasts consistently for two weeks or more
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Increased anxiety or fear
  • More withdrawn
  • Changes in appetite: This can involve eating significantly more or significantly less than usual
  • Changes in sleep: Sleep patterns can be completely reversed or a child or teen might sleep a lot less or a lot more than usual.
  • Loss of interest in activities: This is more than just school and needs to involve things they used to enjoy
  • Deterioration in personal care/hygiene
  • Poor concentration
  • Easily tired
  • Avoidance of social situations, feared situations, by using drugs or alcohol
  • Self-harming behaviours
  • Thoughts of death or dying: While we all have thoughts of death or dying at some point, it is helpful to have a conversation if you child or teenager discloses such thoughts.

Having a conversation

  • Ask your child or teenager if things are okay. It might seem like the most obvious conversation starter but hopefully, it’ll be enough. Ask if there is anything you can do for them.
  • If they don’t respond, or if they say they are okay when they are obviously not, reflect back to them what you’ve noticed over the weeks.
  • Listen actively to what they have to say and empathise. This involves reflecting back what they are saying. Make sure you have enough time to have this conversation and give them your full attention.
  • Validate their feelings. This is one of the most important things you can do for your child at any stage. Children need to have feelings validated to know what they feel and that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling. Validating feelings is not the same as agreeing with it. An example of validating their feelings is ‘I can see you are angry at being grounded because you think it’s unfair.’

What’s unhelpful

  • Don’t jump in to fix anything. You don’t have to always solve problems and sometimes, listening and validating might be enough for them to open up further.
  • Try not to problem-solve as your first step.
  • Don’t give them platitudes like ‘everything will be fine’ or ‘don’t worry’ because you can’t guarantee things will be fine and it’s okay to worry.
  • Don’t yell at them for feeling the way they feel or tell them to ‘get over it’.

If they are suicidal

If your child or teen tells you they want to die, here are some things you can do:

  • Stay calm
  • Ask them if they have been thinking how they want to die
  • If they don’t have a plan and tell you it’s more about ending the pain, go back to having a conversation as mentioned earlier to help them through the pain.
  • If they do have a plan, get rid of the means, monitor them but also check what will stop them from going ahead with it. Once again, don’t get angry with them but listen and validate.
  • In either case, take them to the GP the very next day to get a referral to see a psychologist.
  • Finally, if you are still concerned about risk, take your child or teen to the local emergency department where they can be assessed by a professional.

We can all do our best to create a safe and supportive environment for our children and adolescents. If they feel connected and listened to in the family, they are more likely to open up when troubled.

10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day and 14th September is R U Ok Day in Australia. Start the conversations to help prevent suicide.

Stay tuned to our blog for more posts on talking to kids and teens as well as other child and adolescent mental health resources. Remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date!

Photo: Pixabay


  • Reply
    Lydia C. Lee
    September 11, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Such an important post. I was astounded when I read in Australia, Suicide was the lead cause of death for anyone under 40. It’s incomprehensible to me. I’m working on this as a side project as I feel something must be done to change this. Really great post, and extremely important post. Good work.

  • Reply
    Sheethal Susan Jacob
    September 11, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Ask, listen and be there. Best things one can do to kids and teens a-or anyone going through this phase. Informative post. You must have seen hundreds such cases in your career nah.

  • Reply
    September 11, 2017 at 9:25 am

    It is so sad that suicide effects our children. I was staggered when I read the age that children are taking their own life.

  • Reply
    Jody at Six Little Hearts
    September 11, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Terrible figures. So sad. Thank you for the tips on ways to cope.
    Jody at Six Little Hearts recently posted…Fruit Cake Slice Recipe. Easy School Lunch Box TreatsMy Profile

  • Reply
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond
    September 11, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Such an important issue for society and one we need to talk about openly and encourage others to as well. I’m supporting Liptember this month. You buy a lipstick and proceeds go to Womens’ Mental Health. It is so sad that children are affected so thank you for highlighting the issue.

  • Reply
    Michelle (inthegoodbooksblog)
    September 11, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It is a staggering figure and so sad 🙁

  • Reply
    September 11, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    The stats are appaling… It’s heartbreakint to think that kids so young would consider suicide. To end their life even before it has begun. Excellent points there Sanch… Not just for parents but for everyone

  • Reply
    Alicia O'Brien
    September 12, 2017 at 10:49 am

    It’s always a worry for parents, a worry I have had before with my eldest. Important to be there to listen, support and keep communication lines open.
    Alicia O’Brien recently posted…September. How I love thee.My Profile

  • Reply
    Sydney Shop Girl
    September 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you for such a clearly written post with simple ways we can start the discussion with our children.

    SSG xxx

  • Reply
    September 13, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Thank you for a sobering and most helpful post for families. Suicide and attempts of suicide have touched me via close family members and it is so astounding that the figures are so high. In the past, though, suicide was ‘hidden’ more and media were discouraged from announcing it. RUOK day seems to have changed that.
    Thanks for joining in #LTW 35/52, next week is Taking Stock. I have added the prompts for the rest of 2017 on my home page and in the blog post P is for Pansies.

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