Tragically, there was a suicide of a 15-year-old boy in Greenwich, CT. this week. Sadly, he like other teens, abbreviated his life at a young age. According to the Center for Disease Control suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24. We need not only to take the rate of teen suicides very seriously but also the reaction of the teens who are the peers of the suicide victim. This is especially important because exposure to the suicidal behavior of others is a risk factor that combined with other factors increases an individual’s risk of suicide.
Parents often ask me for tips on how to talk to their teens about a suicide. Even if the teen only knew the teen who committed suicide because they went to the same school it is still very jarring for most teens. Suicide is abrupt, violent and extremely frightening. There are a number of ways that parents can help their teens cope effectively with a peer’s suicide.
1. Find out all of the facts about what happened and share them with your teens. Rumors will be circulating and your kids need accurate information to make sense of things. Teens like adults have a need for the correct information.
2. Ask your teens lots of questions about what they know in a calm and relaxed manner. They are more likely to open up to you if you are not intensely anxious.
3. Explain to your teens that suicide does not usually occur out of the blue but that instead it is the result of mental health problems and chronic stressors like bullying, lots of conflict and loss etc.
4. Talk about your own sad feelings so that you serve as a role model for your teen. Your teens need to know that it is fine to have feelings particularly compassionate feelings.
5. Talk to your teens about how they would like to say good bye to the teen who died and how they might want to honor and help the family and close friends of the dead teen. Everyone feels better if they have a role and feel necessary and helpful.