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How to talk to your teen about suicide

May 16, 2022

Talking about suicide, especially with young people, is a challenge. It’s a scary and often difficult conversation. But Hanna wants to provide safe spaces and support to talk about how to address someone who is having suicidal thoughts.

Soon, Hanna’s Mental Health Hub will be open seven days a week and staffed with caring therapists who are trained to offer counseling, treatment, and support to young people and their families. But how does one recognize that a person may be having thoughts of suicide? Recognizing potential signs for suicide is an important first step.

Some signs that someone may be having thoughts of ending their life include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Hanna therapist Bob Bancroft has thirty plus years of experience in residential, school based and clinic-based psychotherapy and has trained entry level and Masters level students in Suicide/ Crisis intervention. On the topic of suicide in regards to teens he said “It’s important when we think about kids in particular that they trust us as the adults in their lives, that they know they can talk to us. We want them to bring their concerns forward so we can address them and talk about them.” He adds, “the worst thing is for people to suffer in silence. If we don’t know what someone is thinking we can’t help – and if we can’t help, we can’t prevent.”

So, what are some things you can say to get a teen to open up about their feelings?

Hanna’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stefanie Smith says “ask directly, using specific words such as ‘suicide’ and ‘killing yourself.’  Despite some concerns, this does not cause someone who is not suicidal to start thinking about it. In fact, it decreases risk because it shows you care, have noticed them, and that you are okay to talk about suicide. One reason kids do not talk to adults is they worry about our ability to handle serious topics.”  She continued, “ you want to let youth know you take their feelings seriously and that you believe them while not having a personal large emotional reaction that could inadvertently perpetuate the silence. You also want to avoid quick fixes or comments that can minimize the feelings.”


If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide please call 911. For more resources please visit https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/suicide-prevention-resources/