How to talk about teen suicide – Guidelines by age group

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or child, or would like emotional support, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at to connect to a trained crisis counselor.

As professionals and as individuals, we are deeply grieved by the tragic loss of a senior student in our Fort Lauderdale community on October 6, 2022. We extend our sincere condolences to family, friends, and to the community who knew and loved this student. At this time of sadness and shock, may strong, loving support surround all who mourn, and may there be comfort in sharing positive memories of this special young person. 

The suicide of a young person is always a tragedy, one that happens more frequently than you might realize. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people 10 to 24 years old. So although talking about suicide is painful, it’s critical that we give our children and teens a safe space to answer questions and talk about their feelings. They need to know that they will be listened to, supported, and taken seriously and that there is no shame or embarrassment in admitting to the pain they feel.  

Honest conversations about suicide can help to destigmatize it, surface mental health issues, and provide an opportunity to offer assistance. We can’t afford to let our discomfort with the subject get in the way of saving a life.   

As a parent or trusted adult with young people in your life, you may want to know more about the warning signs of suicide and how to talk to those in your care about how they are feeling. Below, we offer a few thoughts and additional resources for further information.    

Suicidal Risk Behaviors 


While there are certain warning signs to watch for, it may not always be obvious that a young person is in emotional difficulty, and possibly even thinking about taking the ultimate step of suicide.  Your best warning system is your day-to-day effort to engage with your child, and if you have a concern, to address signs of depression or any other mental health issues early.  

Risk factors contributing to the rise of suicides among young people:

young person laying on the bed with hands covering her face. Text reading: suicidal thinking can start as early as the age of nine.

Suicidal thinking can start as early as the age of nine. Suicide among 9-year-olds remains relatively rare, and not all children who have suicidal thoughts will attempt suicide, but such thoughts are believed to increase a child’s risk. That risk carries on through the teen years.

Because adolescent brains are still ‘works in progress’ until about the age of 25, young adults are less able to control impulsive behavior. At this stage of life, emotions rule their choices, because the connections between two key areas of the brain are developing at different rates — the rational prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making, and the amygdala, responsible for processing strong emotions like fear. So, biology can play a role in leading a young person, struggling with other risk factors, to make a tragic decision. 

Young people face both personal struggles and serious concerns about the world around them. Many are struggling academically in the wake of the Covid pandemic and worry about college admission and job prospects. Their families may be experiencing financial difficulties. Many young people worry about climate change and its impact on their generation. War, political division, and other socio-economic issues are amplified on television and on social media.  

Add these concerns to normal adolescent development, including struggles to fit in and find their place in the world, and it’s not surprising that the pressures and anxieties facing young people can feel overwhelming. Young people live complicated inner lives, in addition to the stresses of the world around them. That’s why it’s so critical to sustain a healthy level of involvement with your child.   

Other risk factors: 

  • Genetic vulnerability: a family history of suicide, depression, or other mental illness biochemical factors and issues, e.g., faulty mood regulation isolation – physically and emotionally 
  • History of physical or emotional abuse, loss of a close family member, friend, or classmate by suicide or other sudden death 
  • Relationship breakup 
  • Previous history of depression or other mental illness 
  • Previous suicide attempts 
  • Threats, bullying, or violence from peers (especially with social media); as perpetrator or victim 
  • Substance use 

If you are concerned about any of the risk factors above or observe any of the signs listed below, take the time to talk to your teen. Even if they are not, in their case, a sign of suicidal thinking, they may still indicate some kind of struggle or mental health issue. We encourage you to seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional. The Bougainvilla House is here for you at (954) 764-7337. 

Warning signs: 

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use 
  • Sees no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life 
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep, or sleeping too much 
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Lack of energy and unwillingness to carry out regular tasks and responsibilities such as schoolwork or caring for a family pet 
  • Changes in academic performance – missing assignments, plummeting grades
  • Feels trapped – like there’s no way out 
  • Does not feel connected or have a sense of belonging 
  • Belief that they are a burden to others 
  • Hopelessness, feelings of failure, low self-esteem, harsh self-judgment 
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, activities, and favorite pastimes 
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge, lashing out at and rejecting the support of loved ones 
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities without thinking 
  • Dramatic mood changes 

Young person leaning on a hall with the suicide and crisis lifeline number. Reading call or text 988 available 24 hours.

Urgent Warning Signs: 

  • Talking about suicide or a suicidal plan (verbalizing, depicting, or writing about suicide) 
  • Researching ways to harm or kill oneself 
  • Saying things like: “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I shouldn’t have been born” 

Take statements and actions like these seriously – they are truly red flags. Call 911 and/or get immediate professional attention. Note the important crisis hotlines and resources listed at the conclusion of this post. 

Talking About Suicide – Guidelines by Age Group 


Don’t worry that bringing up the topic of suicide will somehow ‘plant’ the idea in your child’s mind. Approach the subject honestly, calmly, and at an age-appropriate level, acknowledging their thoughts and emphasizing that assistance is always available. Remember to maintain an open mind and a non-judgmental tone. Young people need to know they are loved, valued, that help is available, and you will be there for them. And they can offer the same support to their friends. Here are some ways to open up a conversation.  


When talking to young children, keep it simple and short. Talk about it like any other health condition and use words that your child will understand. For example, “This person had a disease in their brain that made them really sad, and they died.” Follow their lead and answer their questions with short, clear replies. Keep the conversation positive with a hopeful outlook and reassure them that they are not responsible in any way. 

Children can understand that death is permanent and that a person who has died is not coming back. But they may continue to think or act as though the person is still present, able to see and hear them and to experience feelings.   

Pre-teens (9-12) 

With pre-teens, you can give more details and introduce them to the warning signs of suicide. Around this age, pre-teens experience strong emotions and sometimes may not know how to cope with their feelings or those of their friends. They likely have heard someone talk about depression or suicide, so ask them what they know about it and how it makes them feel. Listen to their answers and correct any misinformation. You may gain insights into the state of your child’s mental health or identify a concern they may have about a friend.  

Pre-teens can also understand that death is permanent, and they may even have questions about what specifically caused the death. They generally know when adults are trying to protect them by not telling the truth, and they often learn of suicide from other children or by overhearing conversations. 

Teens (13-17) & Young Adults (18-24) 

Teens have a good understanding of mental health conditions, and they likely know someone who has experienced mental illness, if they do not live with mental illness themselves.  Let them know that the pain of depression and other mental illnesses is real, and not something one can just “power through”. Reassure them that these conditions are not caused by weakness, but rather are illnesses that can be treated. 

Offer support and let them know you are there for them if they ever want to talk, whether about themselves or about a friend. Remind them it is okay, and, in fact, critical to reach out for help, and follow up with resources if they or a friend are in emotional distress   Be a good listener and allow your teen to talk openly and express their opinions and thoughts. Again, we can’t overemphasize the importance of maintaining a ‘healthy connectedness’ with the young person in your life. As adults, we want to fix whatever isn’t working for them, but ask yourself if it’s a time to intervene or a time to offer support and a listening ear. There’s such a thing as being too involved and intrusive, but also too hands-off.  

In mental health, as in many other situations, there’s a happy medium that will help your child grow and problem-solve for themselves — even fail sometimes — knowing you are there for them if they are struggling. 

For more specific questions to ask your child or teen about suicide visit here.

If you’re worried about a young person in your life, be the one who asks all the important questions — you could save their life.


Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Call or Text- 988 
Hours: Available 24 hours. 

Crisis / Suicide Intervention
24-Hour Helplines – Dial 211
First call for Help – Broward   County
24 hours / 7 days a week 

Teen Hotline
Phone: (954) 567-TEEN
Phone: (954) 567-8336 

Seek help  

If you or someone you know shows one or more signs of suicide risk factors or struggling with mental illness, or emotional distress, consider talking to a mental health professional. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with a safe space and an understanding and welcoming environment for you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.     

The Bougainvilla House also offers Parenting Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.      

Call now to find support for you and your family: (954) 764-7337. 

The Myth of the “Strong, Silent Type” – Understanding Male Depression

In an episode of The Sopranos, crime boss Tony Soprano describes American actor Gary Cooper as the epitome of the ‘strong, silent type’. During the golden age of Hollywood, Cooper’s on-screen persona became the dominant image of the ideal American male figure. He portrayed a specific breed of masculinity, a physically strong man of action, quiet and emotionally reserved, never displaying feelings or weakness. Thankfully, things have changed since the 1950s. With the rise of mental health awareness, men are now encouraged to share their emotions and seek help in handling life’s challenges. 

June is Men’s Health Month and, while we have come a long way in encouraging men to be vulnerable, old perceptions of masculinity and gender stereotypes still affect young men.  

Brendan Maher, Movember’s global mental health director, saysyoung men are still feeling under pressure to conform to age-old, masculine stereotypes that stop them from talking about the things that keep them up at night.”  

Why is it hard for young men to talk about their feelings?  

The outdated perceptions of masculinity pressures young men to “man up” when life gets hard, causing them to suffer in silence to avoid being bullied, mocked, or labeled as weak. They feel this pressure not only from older men, such as relatives, but also from peers.  

Call it for what it is: an emotionally stunting expectation that makes it hard for teens and young men to express themselves honestly, because they may come to believe that it is inappropriate and risky to do so.  This reticence can affect their present and future relationships and, potentially, their parenting styles. 

A study conducted by research firm Ipsos MORI, found:

  • 58% of men feel like they’re expected to be “emotionally strong and to show no weakness.” 
  • 38% of men have avoided talking to others about their feelings to avoid appearing “unmanly.”  
  • Over half (53%) of American men between ages 18 and 34 say they feel pressure to be “manly.”  
  • 22% of those in this age group say they’re always or frequently mocked for “not being manly enough.” 

If a boy grows up in an environment where they aren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings, it’s tough to overcome later on in life.  This can lead to problems in developing their emotional and relational abilities.  

There are other reasons why men have a tough time sharing feelings. You can find more reasons here.  

Male depression 

Part of being human is the ability to share experiences and connect with others. Suppressing emotions has been linked to cardiovascular health issues, memory loss,  lower immunity to illness, lower productivity and faster burnout. It can also lead to depression and anxiety, and, significantly, it can also increase male suicide risk. 

In 2020, white males accounted for 69.68% of suicide deaths, with middle-aged white males accounting for the greatest number of suicides. The symptoms of depression look different for men and women. Men who feel depressed may appear to be angry or aggressive instead of sad, making it difficult for their families, friends, and even their doctors to recognize the anger or aggression as depression symptoms. 

Giving the boot to the “strong, silent’ myth 

The first step toward male mental wellbeing is to encourage all children and teens, regardless of gender, to express their emotions in healthy ways. Emotional Intelligence can be learned, along with stronger communication and interpersonal skills. Parents can start by raising boys who freely express emotions and can question masculinity stereotypes. Older family members can also work on recognizing and unlearning some of these stereotypes themselves. 

Men need to know that they aren’t alone, and that expressing emotions is natural, normal, and healthy. It also helps to hear stories from men in their midlife who have overcome mental health disorders. The more men hear  stories  from different social groups, sexualities, ethnicities, and ages, the more they will feel seen, understood, and supported.  

Men’s Mental Health Resources 

Movember Men’s Stories: 


Young Adult Therapy:  

Need more help? 

If you or a loved one feel depressed or are having a hard time expressing emotions, consider talking to a mental health professional. Find a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with an understanding and welcoming environment for you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.   

The Bougainvilla House also offers Parenting Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.    

Call now to find support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337. 

I have dark thoughts, what can I do about it?

Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is scary.  Yes, it feels like you’re all alone. 

It’s okay if you don’t have it all together. We know how hard it is to struggle with your thoughts and feelings. Depression is dark and empty, making you believe that you can contribute nothing to anyone or anything. And it feels like life means nothing anymore.  

You may think that isolating yourself or dealing with it on your own is the best thing to do. You don’t want to be a burden to family and friends, and you may think you’re crazy for feeling this way, but that isn’t you. That is the bully in your head talking. 

The bully says it will be better without you. Don’t believe it. Suicide only causes lifelong trauma for the people you love. But you don’t have to live in this dark place.  

Or maybe you’re trying to push away the darkness or relieve the relentless pressure with substances or self-harm. 

If this is you, be honest with your feelings. Please talk.  

If this is someone you know, reach out, tough as it is. Maybe your support will help a friend or relative find the words and the assistance they need. 

Let’s Get Real  

If you’re in a dark place and feeling alone, ask yourself: “Who do I want to talk to?” A family member? A friend? An adult you trust? Chances are, that person already knows something is wrong, but maybe they just don’t quite know how to start the conversation.  

If you can’t think of anyone, don’t give up. Or maybe you’d rather talk about your feelings with someone who’s outside of your circle of family and friends. If either situation is true, call any of the resources listed below. That might feel a bit weird and impersonal, but truly, the people at the other end of the conversation care and will listen. 

Bottom line – if this is you, run toward help. If this is someone you’re worrying about, don’t run away if you think they’re struggling – show them support when they need it the most.  

Danger signs 

Honesty time. Do any of the following warning signs feel like you, or someone you know?  If this is you, a friend, or someone you know, seek help.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to attempt suicide, even jokingly 
  • Looking for suicide methods, like searching online or buying a gun 
  • Talking about or feeling anxious, hopeless or having no reason to live 
  • Pretending everything’s fine when it isn’t 
  • Talking about or feeling trapped or in unbearable pain 
  • Talking about being a burden to others 
  • Personality changes – not feeling, acting or behaving like the person you, or they used to be 
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs 
  • Feeling or acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly 
  • Unexplained or unusually severe, violent, or rebellious behavior 
  • Sleeping too little or too much 
  • Eating too little or too much 
  • Trouble focusing 
  • Withdrawing or isolating from friends and family 
  • Feeling or showing rage or talking about seeking revenge 
  • Extreme mood swings 

Does any of this sound like you? If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust if they’ve noticed any of these behaviors in you. If you’re worried about someone and seeing any of these actions or behaviors, take them as the warning signs they are.  

Been there: stories from the darkness 

Others have been through this. They know the fear, the shame, the aloneness. Maybe their stories will help you or someone you know to find the encouragement to reach out for help. 

Emma’s Story on Wellness Wednesday

Shattering the Silence: Youth Suicide Prevention | Sadie Penn | TEDxYouth@Lancaster

I witnessed a suicide | Joseph Keogh | TEDxPSUBehrend 

Crisis Resources 

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately. 
  • If you or someone you know are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) 
  • If talking on the phone is uncomfortable, text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.  

Get Help 

Don’t minimize your feelings or someone else’s – look for a safe person and space to talkThe Bougainvilla House is there for you, with a safe and welcoming environment for teens and their families. Take that critical first step and ask for help to overcome anxiety and depression, and reconnect to the life you want to live, or want for someone you love. Call now to find support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337.