Talking to Teens about Suicide

By Dr. Brad Schwall, Executive Director


Suicide happens as the result of mental  illness or mental health related issues. Instead of saying someone “committed suicide” or “took his life,” we need to understand and communicate  that he “died from mental illness or a mental health issue.” Just as someone dies from cancer or heart disease, people can die from depression. The action of suicide is the result of illness. The friend, family member, or teacher didn’t consciously decide to die with complete rational reasoning in making the decision. He or she definitely didn’t do this to hurt us. There are often complicated psychological issues and pressures. Substance abuse and dependence, mental illness, a family history of mental illness, and other challenges create risk factors for suicide.

  • Suicide is about wanting to end pain or a problem, not about wanting to die
  • At the moment of suicide, perception is muddled, thinking is not clear, impulse takes over, and the individual isn’t able to see other options for handling the pain or problem
  • It is hard to understand, and the goal isn't to understand, but to remember the person and what he meant to us 

It's good to talk about what happened. Avoid rumors or speculating, but talk about your sadness, fear, anger, or confusion.

Signs of Depression 

In times of tragedy, it is also important to be aware that depression and mental illness are real and that anyone can suffer from them. The symptoms of depression include: 

  • Irritable mood
  • Lack of interest in activities that normally bring enjoyment
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns among others 
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Helplessness and hopelessness 

We all may think about death at times – wondering about life and what happens when we die. Thinking regularly about death and suicide indicates we may be depressed. If a friend seems to be hurting or mentions suicide, talk, tell someone. Asking someone if they've had thoughts of suicide helps – do not be afraid you might give them the idea. 

Keys to Mental Health for Yourself 

Just as we exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep to take care of our physical health, we can take care of our emotional health.

  • Be aware of and talk about your feelings
  • Problem-solve by brainstorming solutions when facing conflicts and challenges
  • If you are hurting, tell someone – never assume that others do not hurt – if you are hurting, you are not alone
  • Your church group, friends, trusted teachers, coaches, parents, relatives, counselors and ministers are all here to help