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Is my child struggling? How do I protect them from suicide risk?

Your child may be struggling more now that they’re back in school. The pandemic has been difficult and emergency rooms across the U.S. have seen an uptick in children being seen for mental health conditions. 

One of the first things you can do as a parent is model healthy habits. Taking care of your own mental health isn’t a weakness, its strength, such as seeking therapy, or practicing selfcare. Your child will see your approaching challenges in an open way, learning that at times we all struggle. This can teach empathy and compassion, even when life can be difficult. 

Next check in with your child, especially if they have a history of depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance use, or suicidal thoughts. Monitoring them closely, getting professional help for at least the short term, longer if conditions are chronic. 

At times, especially with teens, it can be hard for parents to differentiate between normal moodiness and pushing you away, to when you should be concerned. The most important thing to remember is you know your child. Are they behaving in ways that are not normal for them? Trust your instincts. 

Things to look out for are: 

  • Changes in sleep, energy, or appetite. 
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities. 
  • Substance use. 
  • Frustration. 
  • Self-harm. 
  • Suicidal thinking or behavior. 

Don’t be afraid to openly have a conversation about mental health and suicide. It can be helpful to ask if they’re okay, and to ask if they want to talk about it. You can also ask about what’s been happening, or what might be frustrating to them. Ask them if they want to problem solve, so you know what would be most helpful. It’s important to listen and not shut them down by offering quick solutions.  

Validate their feelings. Offer your support and pay attention as they are talking so you can for more information as needed.  

If you’re concerned, they are having suicidal thoughts, you can say it sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot. Does it ever get so tough that you think about ending your life? 

It’s a myth that asking directly about suicide will prompt someone to have those thoughts. 

If your child acknowledges thoughts of suicide or gives an indication, they’ve been thinking about it, take them seriously. Listen and engage with them in a caring and supportive way. Such as saying, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way.” Let them know you’re there for them, then talk with them about how to seek help. 

However, if you feel they are at risk, seek professional help immediately. Call 911 if your child is experiencing a medical emergency. 

For younger children, use language that makes sense to your child, and ask about physical symptoms. Perhaps they’ve been getting upset or angry easier, or they’ve been complaining of stomach aches. Pay attention to sleep and mood changes. If they appear to feel hopeless, trapped, or overwhelmed, ask if they ever think of hurting themselves or ending their life. 

How to get help: 

We offer crisis walk-in services, and programs specific to children, call us at 303.617.2300 

Call Colorado Crisis for talk, text, or walk-in services at 844.493.8255 or text “Talk” to 38255 

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 

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