Talking to Teens About Mental Health and Suicide

Adult talking to a teen at a table near a window

Talking to Teens About Mental Health and Suicide

Each day, 11 Canadians take their own lives, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death amongst young people.

There is a common perception that talking about suicide can be a trigger, or can ‘plant the idea’ in someone’s mind. However, research shows that talking about suicide in a hopeful and respectful way can help to change, and save, lives.

We are living in stressful and uncertain times, and young people are facing some unique challenges that can be psychologically stressful. These may include school transitions that are unlike anything they have experienced before, a sense of social isolation, job insecurity and fear for the future.

In addition, many young people are spending increasing amounts of time online, and while this can provide valuable connections, it can also create feelings of inadequacy, encourage unhealthy comparisons, and expose youth to people or content that makes them feel unsafe.

With these factors in mind, we wanted to share our advice for talking to young people about their mental health and the difficult topic of suicide. These tips are provided by Jessica Corbett, Youth Mental Health Worker with CMHA’s MOBYSS bus.

Male adult talking to a teen male

Is talking about suicide with young people dangerous?

Not if it’s done in an open, collaborative way. Suicide is within the top 5 causes of death for young people – the fact that we’re not having conversations is concerning.

Adult female smiling at a teen while outside

I feel uncomfortable talking about this with the young people in my life.

It is uncomfortable, that is really normal. These conversations are never easy. It’s important recognize your discomfort, but know that if you talk about mental health and suicide, it normalizes some of the struggles youth have, whether it’s about school, work, or peers. If their concerns validated by parents or adults within their lives, it opens the doors for youth to have conversations about them in meaningful ways, and helps them to feel that they can trust parents and caregivers.

Being worried about mental health or suicide can be heavy for a young person, and for most, even to articulate those things is challenging. Conversations help them feel that they won’t be shamed or have their feelings invalidated.

Mother and teenage son walking arm in arm

How do I raise the topic of mental health and suicide?

Caring for our mental health is important, and part of that is open dialogue, creating a safe space for kids to talk about their concerns.

Don’t think of mental health as a ‘one time only’ conversation. If you have frequent, open conversations, you are letting your kids know that you are a safe person to talk to if problems do arise.

We have all experienced stress or periods of grief or worry. If you start by sharing your own experiences, how they affected you and how you dealt with them, you can help kids to feel less alone and to see you as someone who will understand them if they have concerns they want to talk about. You can build up from there to talking about mental health and suicide.

NB: If you have immediate concerns about whether you or a young person in your life might be experiencing a mental health crisis or considering suicide, please seek immediate help by calling 310-COPE (York Region) or 911.

Click here to learn more about preventing suicide.