How to talk to adolescents about mental illness and suicide

Posted at 3:42 PM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 18:58:52-05

It’s best to be direct and open when discussing this most important subject. 20% of teens have a diagnosable mental illness but only about 36% get help. (NIMH) Sit down and ask if they know the symptoms of mental illness if they have ever felt any of these symptoms.

Special Section - Breaking Silence

Tell them they can come to you anytime if they do feel these symptoms or if a parent notices symptoms talk to your teen about them. Start a conversation with, “I’ve noticed or I’m concerned because”. Never in an accusatory manner, “How come you never sleep? How come you’ve lost so much weight?” These might be signs of a mental illness:

  • Often feels very angry or very worried
  • Can’t sleep or eat or refuses or sleeps frequently or overeats
  • Is unable to enjoy pleasurable activities anymore
  • Isolates her/himself and avoids social interactions, especially with friends
  • Feels grief for a long time after a loss or death
  • Uses alcohol or drugs
  • Exercises, diets and/or binge-eats obsessively
  • Hurts other people or destroys property
  • Has low or no energy or excessive energy that is out of character
  • Smokes, drinks, or use drugs
  • Feels like he or she can’t control own  emotions
  • Has thoughts of suicide
  • Harms her/himself, such as cutting or burning her/his skin
  • Thinks his or her mind is controlled or out of control
  • Hears voices

If you suspect your teen is thinking about suicide, ASK directly about suicide, never assume anything. You CANNOT put the idea of suicide in their head. The majority of people thinking about suicide won’t tell us they have the thought, they want someone to ASK them about suicide.

If asked directly and non-judgmentally, most people will be grateful you asked and be honest with you if they are…

There is help available. Call the KCMH Hotline 24/7 1-800-991-5272, we can help….