How to Talk to a 14-18 Year-Old Teen about a Suicide Attempt in Your Family
This information sheet is intended to serve as a guide for adults to use when talking with a 14-18 year-old teenager about a suicide attempt in the family. It is not intended to replace the advice of a mental health professional. In fact, it may be best to use this along with professional support if you or your teenager is struggling with how to talk about this difficult topic. It is
important to consider your teenager’s level of development and
ability to understand events when deciding how to talk with them
about this issue.
Why should I talk to my teenager about a suicide attempt
in the family?
It is important to talk to your teenager about the suicide
attempt to help them understand what has happened. Without support
of family/friends, they may try to make sense of this confusing
situation themselves. Sometimes teenagers blame themselves for
something they may or may not have done. Teenagers may not want to
talk directly about their worries or feelings. Instead, they may
show them in other ways. They may isolate, or not tell their friends
out of shame, uneasiness, or fear of being misunderstood or
How should I talk to my teenager?
- Keep your teenager’s daily routine as consistent and predictable
as possible, but be flexible.
- Pick a place that is private where your teenager will feel free
to talk. Be aware of what they may overhear from other
- Keep it simple. Use words your teenager will understand. Ask
- Be aware of your own feelings and how you are coming across. For
example, your teenager could mistake an angry tone of voice to mean
that you are angry with them, or with the family member who
- If your family member is in the hospital, talk to your teenager
as soon as possible. Keep checking in with your teenager. This will
send the message that you are open to answering questions over time.
- Get other support people involved (friends or clergy). This will
benefit you and your teenager.
- Offer extra support, affection, and attention during this time
(family meals, time together).
- Be prepared to discuss concerns about whether your teenager is
at risk for similar behaviors.
What do I say to my teenager?
- Start with their understanding of the situation. “I want to
talk to you about what happened to dad. What do you remember from
- Describe what has happened using understandable language.
“Mom was feeling very sad and hurt herself.”
- Inform your teenager about emotional struggles. “Grandpa has
been feeling very sad lately.”
- Address guilt, blame, shame, and responsibility. “I want to
you to know that this is not your fault.”
- Assure your teenager that their family member is getting
treatment/care. “Dad is in the hospital getting help."
- Let them know that their daily routine will stay the same.
“Even though it is different that mom is not here, you will still
go to school tomorrow.”
- Encourage them to express their feelings. Help them to know that
their reactions are normal and expected. Ask if they have questions.
Sometimes it is easier to draw or write about feelings than to say
them. “I wonder what you were thinking about the things I’ve told
you. Sometimes kids feel like it is their fault, or they did
something wrong, or that it will happen to them or other adults in
their life. Do you feel any of these? Do you have any questions
about grandpa and what happened?”
- Help create a connection between the teenager and their family
member. “Would you like to go with me to visit dad?" Tell
them when they can expect to see their family member again.
“Would you like to send a letter or a card to dad while he’s in
the hospital? He will be there for a few days.”
- Allow them not to talk if they desire, and to choose who they
talk to. Discuss how your teenager can share this information with
family and friends. ““If you don’t want to talk about it now,
that’s ok. We can talk about it later or you can talk to grandma,
too. Would you like to talk about this with your friend Jane? What
would you like her to know?”
- Let them know you are getting support, too. “This is
something that makes me sad and I need to get some help, too (from
clergy, friends, and/or my doctor).”
- Reassure them that you are in charge and in control, and that
they can come to you with concerns and questions.
If you notice that your teenager is unusually withdrawn, tearful,
or depressed, seek professional help or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For additional resources and information on how to talk with 4-8
year-olds and 9-13 year-olds about suicide visit: http://
www.mirecc.va.gov/visn19/VISN_19_Education.asp or http://www.veteranscrisisl