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.