Matty Jeff Shares Advice for Talking with Children About Suicide
Sometimes the toughest conversations you have can be the most important!
If you are a parent, you can relate. And I happened on one of those tough but important conversations recently with my 5-year-old daughter, Scarlett. The local news was on TV in the background, and a story came on about a local suicide. And then the question came: "Daddy, what is suicide?" I honestly did not know how to react.
Since it's Mental Health Awareness Month, I reached out to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, which has a plethora of information about everything from warning signs to influencing factors and more.
The information I found about talking with children was broken down by age, which makes sense. For children younger than 8, many experts suggest avoiding the topic unless the child brings it up, like Scarlett did, according to Today.com. In that case, parents should talk about it almost similar to cancer or another serious illness — "That person died because they had an illness. It's really sad."
As children get a little older, from ages 7 to 10, adults should still keep the answers simple and short (but truthful!), allowing children to ask follow up questions if they want to continue the conversation. You could maybe add more mental health details, like mentioning the person suffered with depression and you wish they had been able to get more help, according to Today.com.
By the time your child is a preteen or teen, though, you can use these conversations to probe your child's attitude and knowledge about mental health — and correct misinformation, according to Today.com. You can talk with them about warning signs of mental health issues and suicide and emphasize that mental illness isn't a sign of weakness.
Ask them questions like: What have you heard about suicide? How do you feel about it? Have you or any of your friends ever thought about suicide? What do you think is the right thing to do if you have?
The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention website has tons of information that could help prepare you for conversations with teens, from statistics to general treatment information to help for people who feel suicidal. They even have an article on what to do if someone tells you they are thinking about suicide.
I know I'm a long way from helping Scarlett navigate her teen years, but I spent a few minutes reviewing the website, so I'm informed when the questions and problems get a little tougher.