Top Tips for Talking with Teens about Suicide and Depression

Top Tips for Talking with Teens about Suicide and Depression

Practical tips to help parents and caring adults talk with teens about depression

Every day, parents and school counselors and teachers see students dealing with depression. Recently, a highly publicized report by the CDC stated that, “In 2021, almost 60% of female students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year and nearly 25% made a suicide plan.”

More than ever, it is vital that you talk with teens about depression and suicide. Remember, talking about it won’t give teenagers ideas, but it will let them know that you care and that you can handle the conversation if or when they need to it.

Fortunately, there are many resources out there to help us as parents, counselors, teachers, and friends know how to do that. One such resource is Dr. Michele Borba. She has interviewed hundreds of teens and held countless conversations with them about ways that adults can help or hurt.​

 

Here are Dr. Borba’s top tips for having this discussion with your teen

(Posted with permission from her blog.)

1. Review the facts first.

Chances are the teen suicide pact story will be discussed at school or amongst your child’s peers, so review the story before you talk. More often than not, the stories your child hears won’t be accurate and can fuel anxiety. That’s why you need to clarify the real facts.

2. Find the right time.

Plan to talk with your teen about suicide and depression. Just make sure it’s a relaxed, uninterrupted time. Ideally you want to have this chat during a part of the day when your child is most receptive to talking.

3. Begin with a simple question or direct statement.

A few ways to start the dialogue: “Have you heard the sad news about the girls who killed themselves?” or “What are your friends saying?” or “Let’s talk about what you just saw on the news.”Listen to your teen and follow his or her lead.

4. Be honest and direct, but careful.

Give the details your child needs to know. Withhold facts or details that are not in your child’s best interests. Be prepared for lots of questions — or none at all. Clear up any misunderstandings about suicide, depression or death that your child may have. If you don’t have an answer, just admit you don’t know and say you’ll get back with the answer. The key is to keep that conversation going!

5. Describe depression.

“Yes, it’s a sad story, but I want to talk to you about suicide and depression.” Your talking points might include stressing that depression is not a phase, nor something kids can shrug off by themselves. Depression is a serious disease that needs a medical doctor.

To help your child see the difference between normal sadness and depression, apply the word “too” to your talk: The sadness is too deep. The depression lasts too long or happens too oftenIt interferes with too many other areas of your life such as your home, school, friends. The best news is, when diagnosed early and properly treated, kids almost always feel better.

Stress to your teen
“If you ever feel so sad or scared or helpless, please come and tell me so we can work together to make things right. Depression is treatable.”

6. Be prepared to be unprepared.

There is no way of predicting how your teen will respond to such a tough subject. The key is to answer any or all questions as they emerge. Let your teen know you are always available to listen or help.

7. Talk about cyber-bullying.

Emphasize that you recognize bullying and cyberbullying is a growing and serious problem. Ask how often bullying is happening at school, what the school’s bullying policy is and how safe your child and her friends feel. Use the example from this tragic story to stress that cyber-bullying is painful and that intentionally causing another child pain is never acceptable.

Use your chat as the opportunity to review your rules about the Internet and cell phone. Talk about the dangers posting anything that is hurtful — that there are no take backs and that hurtful actions can have horrific consequences.

Also stress that if your child is ever cyber-bullied to please come and tell you. Beware that tweens or teens say they fear telling parents because they do not want computer privileges removed. Be careful so you do not sound too punitive. Instead, stress that the child should print out the evidence and you will contact the server to change the passwords. Other blogs cover cyber-safety issues, how to monitor your child’s online history and signs your child is cyber-bullied.

8. Teach “Tattling” vs “Reporting.”

When it comes to preventing tragedies, kids may well be the best metal detectors: the majority of adolescents who commit homicide or suicide share their intentions with a peer. Impress on your teen the importance of telling an adult “legitimate concerns” with the guarantee that their report will be taken seriously. Telling an adult that someone is hurt or could get in trouble is not the same as tattling: It’s acting responsibly. Explain that reporting is not to get a friend in trouble but to help them stay out of trouble or harm.

9. Discuss “safety nets.”

Identify adults your child feels safe with, other people they can talk to when issues arise. Stress that people are always available to help your children or their friends with any kind of trouble. Mention the 24-hour confidential USA National Suicide hotline: 800-784-2433 or 800-273-8255, with trained people who can listen and help kids any hour of any day.

Above all, emphasize:
No problem is so great that it can’t be solved!

Depression is treatable. We need to make sure our children know they can come and talk to us about anything.

Keep reading for four ways to help teens with mental health issues, like depression or suicidal thoughts.

1 in 10 teens attempted suicide in 2021. That's 2 in every classroom.
In 2021, almost 60% of female students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year and nearly 25% made a suicide plan.

Four ways to help teens suffering from depression

Teach coping skills
  • Who can they talk to when they are in trouble?
  • Positive coping skills: music, working out, art, hanging out with friends
  • Social media and relational boundaries
  • HOPE
Be aware of resources
  • School
  • Counseling
  • Hotlines
  • Church
  • Other trusted adults
Recognize the signs of mental health issues and addiction so you can get them help when they need it

Learn more about the difference between a moody teenager and depression here and here.

Also take a look at these resources:

Support programs that are working to help teens in schools

Teens spend a significant amount of their week in school. Let’s support them where they are. Learn more about how Teen Life facilitates on-campus Support Groups!

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Teen Mental Health Update
The CDC recommends that schools take action to educate teens on improving their mental health. Support Groups are a great solution!

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Summary:
Teen mental health is collectively suffering, but there is hope. According to the recent CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, teenagers are depressed and suffering from violence and poor self image. But feeling connected to the adults in their lives can be a lifeline. Listen for tips on how you can help.

In this episode, we mentioned or used the following resources:

Have a question? If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and has always had a heart for teenagers and the vulnerable life stage they are in. She has a wealth of experience to share from working with teens in ministry and leading support groups.

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You can find it at school

You can find it at school

I’ve had the privilege of working with Teen Life for over ten years now in a multitude of roles. I’ve worked in the tall weeds of programming, recorded hundreds of podcasts, and even put together a budget or two. Throughout these years, I’ve enjoyed many incredible opportunities in a multitude of scenarios throughout our community. I’ve even met some really cool people who are doing truly groundbreaking work on behalf of the students in our neighborhoods.

Yet through it all, my very favorite thing to do is walk the halls of our local schools. It never gets old to me. Every school is different and has its own personality. There are different themes, decorations, nuances, and sensibilities distinguishing each campus from the rest. Some are new and innovative while others seem to be lost to time.

I heard it said a while back that the local “town square” has shifted from the local church to the local school. That is, for so many years the center of the community was found in the local houses of worship. Recently, many in the community are finding the local school to be the crossroads of education, socialization, culture, support systems, and other crucial aspects of local community. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate (and I mean, it is DEBATED).

One community-centric role that the local school is taking on is the role of mental health provider. For an institution already bearing the cultural weight of so many other roles, asking a school to provide space for mental health services on top of everything else is a tall task. To ask teachers who already have significant academic responsibilities to also stand in as mental health professionals goes well beyond their capacity. To find staff who are able to address the mental health needs of students, you have to look to counselors, nurses, and sometimes even SRO’s (local police assigned to a school). While they are much better equipped, there just aren’t that many of them available and they are expensive to hire.

According to a recent report from the CDC 42% of teenagers reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless and almost 25% reported experiencing poor mental health. This is not okay or normal!

From my vantage point we have an even bigger problem. The conversation around mental health and adolescents is more open than it has ever been before. As we walk through the halls of schools you will see posters and signs with quotes like “It’s okay to not be okay” or “be kind to yourself”. Our teenagers are leading the way with this conversation, and that part is encouraging at least!

Yet the disparity comes with access. It’s like saying “exercise is the most important thing” but there are no trainers or gyms in sight. Or if we emphasized a healthy diet, but only offered students fast food. Simply put – quality, accessible, and affordable mental health services are really hard to come by for adolescents!

This isn’t the fault of the army of mental health workers out there doing the hard job of serving the onslaught of issues. More so, this is a systemic issue of access and equity.

For me one of the most encouraging aspects of this CDC report was the recommendation that schools set aside more funding and prioritize better and more robust mental health services on school campuses. The hope is, if there are innovative and scalable interventions available to serve the mental health needs of students – local school campuses would be the place to find them!

On this blog, we focus on a variety of topics relevant to the betterment of the adolescent experience. Not often do we have the opportunity to simply plug what we do here at Teen Life and highlight how important it is to the mental health and wellbeing of students.

Teen Life provides Support Groups on school campuses during the school day led by community volunteers and counselors. While not a billable mental health service, we stand in the gap for teenagers to access quality mental health supports while they work to improve their circumstances. Life is so much better when you have peer support and mentorship from someone who is showing up on your behalf – week after week.

The CDC recommendations fall squarely into what we do here at Teen Life. And because what we do happens on school campuses – we believe lives will change and get better.

So if you are a parent, educator, administrator, or volunteer – make your voice heard to bring in mental health supports and services like what we offer. here at Teen Life. If it isn’t us – I know there are many more in your community ready to help.

Let’s rally to help mental health supports and services be available to any student who is in need!

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Ep. 33: Movember & Fall Trends

Ep. 33: Movember & Fall Trends

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Summary:
Men’s mental and physical health are in crisis. In fact, the statistics are staggering. Men die, on average, five years earlier than women. Four out of five deaths by suicide in the United States are men. The Movember movement seeks to change that. Join us as we discuss how to help move the mark, specifically with teenage boys. Then, if you love all things pumpkin spice, this week’s trend is for you. We’ve got all the fall trends and a Thanksgiving tip for making the holidays more fun for everyone.

Have a question? If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Follow Us

Ep. 19: Start of School Anxiety & Simone Biles

Ep. 19: Start of School Anxiety & Simone Biles

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Summary:
As teens and teachers head back to school, anxiety levels are higher than usual- and with good reason. Join us for practical ways to support school staff and students as the school year begins. Be sure to keep listening as Chris and Karlie discuss the importance of Simone Biles and Naomi Osaki and their recent refusals to put performance over mental health.

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

Have a question? If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Follow Us