Tips for Parents re: Talking to Youth About Depression or Suicide
Focus on listening, not lecturing.
Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your child begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally.
Be gentle but persistent.
Don’t give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for children. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen. Avoid taking angry comments personally.
Acknowledge their feelings.
Don’t try to talk your child out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously. To make them feel understood and supported, simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut.
If your child claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your child won’t open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.
- Avoid letting little things ‘build up’
- Speak to the issue so it does not feel like you are criticizing the ‘whole teen’ rather the specific behavior
- Communicate directly and calmly even if angry
- Help identify symptoms changes‐ both increase in intensity of symptoms as well as improvements in symptoms (better sleep, more active, more socialization, etc.)
- Changing expectations with improving mood and functioning
- Provide feedback about positive changes you noticed
- Always take suicide talk seriously‐ let your care provider know
- Make school aware of what is occurring‐ find an ally
Further assistance is available.
The Pennsylvania Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative has provided key talking points developed by SAVE: https://www.save.org/.If you would like assistance in addressing these topics with your child, please contact the counselor or social worker at your child’s school. The counselor or social worker is the school’s Student Assistance Program Team Leader. A complete list of counselors and social workers is available by school on our website.