If your child is having suicidal thoughts, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily attempt it. However, feeling suicidal must always be taken seriously. It shows your child needs help and support.
This is an incredibly hard time for you as a parent. You may worry about how you can keep your child safe. Perhaps you are frightened that you could accidentally make things worse by saying or doing the wrong thing?
Key messages about suicide:
- There are many organisations that can help you — you are not alone
- Your child can get through this and feel okay again
- If your child talks with you about suicide, it’s more likely they can get help
Suicidal thoughts can come in sudden bursts or last for a long period of time. If your child self harms, you may assume that this automatically leads to attempting suicide. However, some children can self harm and not have suicidal thoughts.
How do you know your child is having suicidal thoughts?
All young people are different. Some will talk openly about how they are feeling and others will try to keep everything hidden from you.
There are common signs that your child may have suicidal thoughts. Some children will show lots of these features, others will not. If you are worried about your child for any reason, seek help straight away.
Signs your child may have suicidal thoughts:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Shutting themselves away and spending lots of time alone
- Feeling hopeless and unworthy
- Losing interest in their previous activities
- Feeling guilty or ashamed
- Talking about death a lot
- Using phrases like, “You would be better off without me,” “I can’t keep going,” or “It’s too much to cope with”
- Sudden agitation and unusual behaviour
- Sleeping and eating significantly more or less than usual
- Self harming, or they have done so in the past
If you think your child may have suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. Don’t hope it will get better by itself. It can be hard to tell if your child is at risk of making a suicide attempt. It is always best to seek professional help, even if you aren’t sure.
Also talk to your child’s school to ask them if they’ve seen any concerning behaviour. They may have noticed a change in their attitude, dropping grades, a lack of interest in school, or that they’re spending all their time alone.
Talking about suicidal thoughts
You may feel worried about talking to your child about suicide, but speaking about it is a good thing. It’s a chance for them to talk about how they’re feeling and it shows them they aren’t alone.
If you’re not sure if your child has suicidal thoughts, you can ask them. Use the word “suicide” rather than trying to avoid it. You’re showing them it’s okay for them to use the word with you when they talk.
When you talk with your child:
- Take it seriously: Don’t minimise or dismiss their feelings
- Show them you’re listening: Concentrate on feelings rather than solving problems
- Reassure them: Tell them you love them and you can find help together
- Talk it through: Discuss why they might feel this way
- Find out if they have a plan: If they’ve taken active steps to prepare, seek immediate urgent help
Your child may not feel comfortable to sit down and have a long chat with you about suicidal thoughts. They might prefer to write down their feelings, email, or message you. You could go on a walk or complete an activity so they can do something while they speak. They may want to talk to someone other than you, like a trusted friend or a designated staff member at school.
If your child is attempting suicide, call 999 immediately.
If you think they will attempt suicide, or you’re worried about their safety, call 999 or take your child to A+ E. A mental health specialist will assess them, decide next steps and give you helpful advice.
For concerns that are not immediate or life-threatening, call 111 or the NHS mental health helpline (England only) for urgent advice.
Suicide support organisations:
- Young Minds guide for parents about suicidal thoughts
- Prevention of Young Suicide PAPYRUS has a useful parent conversation starter pack
- ChildLine online and phone support
- Shout text-line: text 85258 for 24/7 support
- NHS urgent mental health helpline (England only)
If you’re worried about your child’s mental health and wellbeing, but they are not at an immediate risk, contact your GP for an urgent appointment. They can refer you to a mental health team like CAMHS.
This can be an incredibly stressful and worrying time for you. Don’t forget to look after your own health while you try to support your child. We have a useful course about suicidal thoughts available.
Reach out for help, talk to trusted friends and family, and get professional help if you are worried about your own mental health or feel you can’t cope.