How to ask a teenager if they are suicidal

For many adults, discussing suicide with a teenager can be difficult. They may be afraid to put the thought into the teen’s mind, even though research shows that simply asking about thoughts or feelings about suicide does not increase a person’s risk of suicide. Then there is language. Should the conversation be short or deep? Should it include the latest TikTok lyrics? Perhaps the most pressing concern is what to do if a young person expresses suicidal thoughts. Suddenly, the old man is pushed into a big problem, maybe he doesn’t know how to help the young man he loves.

Although these fears are understandable, parents, caregivers, and other caring adults should be aware that certain factors may lead to suicidal thoughts. Doctors use internationally recognized screening questions to accurately assess the risk of suicide, which adults can modify by talking to young people. In addition to seeing a trusted health care provider for help, adults can reach out to local and national health organizations that provide information or research tools to help find professional and anonymous help (more on these resources below). Crisis lines also connect callers or texters to services, and these include helping adults who are affected by youth.

Alex Karydi, a suicide prevention expert at the Education Development Center, a non-profit research organization, says adults can learn the signs of suicide risk in young people, rely on a health counselor to guide the conversation with the young person, and plan next steps. when the young person shows that he wants to kill himself.

Signs of a suicidal teenager

Karydi recommends that adults consider suicide risk as part of children’s health and well-being. Parents, for example, are taught to call a pediatrician if their child has a high fever or other serious symptoms. Similarly, adults should seek help if they see signs of depression or anxiety in a child they love.

“The first thing is not to make a distinction between the body and the mind,” says Karydi, who leads technical support for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s States and Communities Initiative, and encourages adults to take action on youth health that considers mental health as important as physical health.

However, even with the whole process, some adults have difficulty distinguishing between adolescent behavior, such as anger or depression, and behavior that indicates an increased risk of suicide. Seeking out sad music or movies can be fun or entertaining for young people, and doesn’t necessarily mean suicidal thoughts, Karydi says. However, if a young person begins to identify with a fictional character who has attempted or died by suicide, this can increase suicidal ideation through a process known as contagion. Karydi mentions a young Netflix series 13 reasons, how a teenage girl dies by suicide, as a famous example. Not everyone who is exposed to suicidal messages in the media and entertainment can get the virus, but young people are at the highest risk.

“If a child sees it [13 Reasons Why] and he’s looking at what happened to the girl, and he’s saying ‘I’m the one. I am him. I can’t get out of it, as if he couldn’t get out of it… he starts identifying with other people who can die or suffer a lot,” says Karydi.

Other signs of suicide risk include heavy drug use, problems at school, isolation, withdrawal from friends and hobbies, conflicts with parents and caregivers, and temper tantrums. Teens may spend more time browsing websites with depression topics or forums where users talk about suicide. Some may say, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” (For more information on suicide risk and prevention, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Young people who harm themselves do not want to kill themselves, says Karydi. Instead, they are using coping skills to deal with more pain, because self-inflicted pain can provide relief from intense emotions. However, self-injury can be a ritual behavior that makes a young person comfortable with blood or pain, and thus, increases their risk of suicide. Karydi says it’s not a “big leap” for a teenager who has self-harmed to consider suicide.

Questions to ask a suicidal teen

Adults who see these signs should ask the teen about suicide. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that doctors screen for suicide risk in all adolescents 12 years of age and older, regardless of whether adults have seen the warning signs. Although the AAP encourages doctors to see their patients, some doctors may not follow these guidelines. In addition, more than 4 million children do not have health insurance and cannot get regular checkups. Young people may also feel comfortable telling a trusted adult about suicidal thoughts.

Careful adults who want to assess the risk of suicide in a young person may have some simple questions. Adults can take a compassionate approach, explaining to the young person that they want to have an open discussion about mental health, or that they are concerned about the young person’s well-being based on recent observations. They should also be aware of factors that may increase the risk of suicide, such as bullying, discrimination, and past trauma. Things that may seem small to someone who grew up, their personality, or what happened in their life can cause others to think and kill themselves.

In order to help talk about suicide, Karydi credits a donation made by the Columbia Lighthouse Project, a suicide prevention initiative led by researchers at Columbia University.

The assessment consists of six questions with specific instructions to ask them all. Here are the first two:

1) Did you wish you were dead or did you wish you fell asleep but didn’t wake up?

Seniors can ask the following questions in the paper based on the answers to the first and second questions.

Karydi also recommends the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ) Toolkit. Sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health and validated by researchers, the ASQ assessment tool consists of four short questions to ask:

1. In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family would be better off after death?2. In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?3. In the past week, did you have suicidal thoughts? 4. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

A “yes” answer to one or more of these questions indicates a risk of suicide.

What to do if a teenager says they want to kill themselves

Karydi said that it is important for adults not to panic if the young person answers these questions positively. When a suicide attempt is underway or imminent, Karydi says adults should go to the emergency room with the teen — or call 911 — right away to get help. If the young person shares their suicidal thoughts, Karydi advises asking if they can make a plan. When a young person names a path or place, it is important for an adult to block the path, or limit access. This would include banning drugs, guns, and other methods of killing. The adult should consult with a mental health professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, or psychologist, about getting immediate help and support for the young person.

Karydi says adults and youth should take advantage of services such as 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, The Trevor Project, and Trans Lifeline, which connect callers and text messages to trained listeners who can de-escalate the problem and provide information about local mental health services.

Adults can underestimate the resources they have, says Karydi. If an adult or teen doesn’t have access to a trusted doctor who can make a referral, Karydi recommends talking to a school counselor, youth counselor, or supportive religious leader, who may have their own ideas. (Ideally, these professionals will be empathetic and avoid judging or belittling what the youth and their adult are going through.) County and state health agencies can also provide information about getting help. Mental Health America, a national nonprofit organization, has a list of resources on how to get help. Adults interested in the best ways to treat suicidal ideation in young people can review this guide from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Mental Health Services Administration.

Although the treatment may be very important for young people, it may not be possible due to the high cost or shortage of psychologists. Karydi says adults need to think more about ways to improve communication among young people, which can help reduce the risk of suicide. This may include finding ways to achieve a young person’s desire to fit in at school, be accepted by friends and family, be on an athletic team, or participate in religious activities.

Adults can help teens identify healthy choices that help them stay safe and healthy — and make sure the teen follows through. While this may not completely cure the mental illness that causes suicidal thoughts, or change the lifestyle that puts a person at risk of suicide, it can increase their awareness. This can lead to happiness and good health, as well as reducing anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts.

“We always want to help [a suicidal] a person regains, connects, to feel important,” says Karydi.

If you are feeling suicidal or suffering from mental illness, please talk to someone. You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988; Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 am – 10:00 pm ET, or by email If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Chat on Here is a global inventory.

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