How you can help your kids deal with suicidal thoughts

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African American father and his son.
Sep 29, 2019  |  Loma Linda, California, United States  | 

African American father and his son.

Situations that cause people to feel hopeless are unique in each case — but having suicidal thoughts is not. These thoughts can be overwhelming and frightening, and it can be challenging for a child or teen to know the best way to cope.

Serafin T. Lalas, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, says talking to your children about their suicidal thoughts can also be a challenge.

“If your child confides in you that they are having suicidal thoughts, the first thing to do is to take it seriously,” Lalas says. “It is hard to determine where they are at in their thought process, so it is best to assume the worst. Be there to listen to them and validate their feelings,” he says.

Lalas says keeping an open line of communication is always helpful because kids may not always be forthcoming with how they feel. “The range of emotions kids can have with having suicidal thoughts are fear, shame, guilt and hopelessness,” he says. “Some are just simply confused about why they feel this way, and this can cause them to shut down and isolate themselves.”

Suicidal thoughts can evoke different kinds of emotions, so Lalas says it’s important to be sympathetic and supportive. “You don’t need to necessarily try to solve their problems right then and there, since you may not be able to anyway, but let them know you are there for them and that help is available,” he says. “The worst thing a suicidal person can do is to isolate themselves.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it is important to learn the warning signs of teenage suicide in order to prevent an attempt. Maintaining open communication with your teenager and their friends provides an opportunity for helping as needed. If a teen is talking about suicide, he or she must receive immediate evaluation.

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