Pediatric HealthSource: Youth Suicide

John Ackerman, Ph.D.
John Ackerman, Ph.D.

Q: I hear youth suicide rates are on the rise, and I am worried my daughter may be at risk. How can I start the difficult conversation about suicide? What do I say?

A: As a parent, some conversations are easier to start with your children than others. Suicide may not be one of those. In fact, talking about suicide may be one of the toughest conversations you have with your child, but it also could be the most important. One in six teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year, and suicide can affect children of all ability levels and backgrounds.

There are many questions that can help start this important conversation, such as, “Do you ever get sad or lonely?” or “It sounds like you are having a very hard time. Do things ever get so overwhelming that life doesn't seem worth living?” or “Have you ever thought about trying to kill yourself?” Even if the answers are no, these questions allow for dialogue and problem-solving strategies that can be used in the future.

Many parents worry that asking their child about suicide will put ideas in their head. Several studies have shown this is not the case. Asking these questions will let your child know that you want to understand them, even if it is uncomfortable.

If a child is having suicidal thoughts, being asked about it is often a relief. Even if your child is not experiencing thoughts of suicide, he or she likely will encounter peers who display warning signs or need help. Having a conversation with your child about suicide can be a lifesaving measure.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, call the Franklin County Crisis Hotline for youth under 18 at 614-722-1800, contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “4HOPE” to 741-741, or take him or her to the nearest emergency room.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

For more pediatric health news parents can use, visit our

John Ackerman, Ph.D., is the suicide prevention coordinator with the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Talking Points

Some ways of responding to a person who is having suicidal thoughts are ineffective. Please consider the following:

Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong.

Don't lecture on the value of life or question why someone could feel this way.

Don't be sworn to secrecy or promise confidentiality; indicate that safety and getting help are the top priorities.

Convey the message that suicide is preventable and treatment is effective. Even if a person is not suicidal, discussing your concerns is important. It lets a person know you care and are willing to have tough conversations.

Tip of the Month