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Strategies for parents to support a teen experiencing a suicidal crisis

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Strategies for parents to support a teen experiencing a suicidal crisis

Knowing what to do or say when a teen is experiencing thoughts of suicide can be a challenging and scary issue for parents and carers to face. 

It is clear that parents play an important role in keeping a teen safe through a suicidal crisis1, 2. Below are a range of strategies for responding to an immediate suicidal crisis, and for providing emotional and practical ways of helping a teen manage suicidal thoughts or urges. 

If you think your teen is at immediate risk of suicide, call emergency services on 000 or take them to the nearest emergency department yourself if you can do so safely. 

Lifeline is also available for free crisis support on 13 11 14. If you’re waiting for support to arrive or concerned for their immediate safety, you should stay close to them. If it is safe to do so, remove access to anything that your teen might use to harm themselves, especially if they have mentioned or already used something specifically.

If you don’t think your teen’s life is in immediate danger but you’re concerned for their safety or wondering if they are having suicidal thoughts, the best thing to do is directly ask them: “Are you thinking about hurting yourself right now?” or “Are you having thoughts about suicide?”. These questions could be asked as part of a conversation about how the teen is coping at the moment. You might also need to look for signs a teen is struggling to say they are feeling suicidal. For example, they might appear particularly overwhelmed or distressed, or say something like “I’m not in a good place right now”, or “I don’t want to be here”. 

If a teen has indicated or told you that they are thinking about suicide, but the situation doesn’t need emergency services, there are a range of emotional and practical supports that you as their parents or carer can use to help support a teen through a suicide crisis:

Emotional supports

  1. Be available to your teen. Tell them you are here for them if they need you, and that you want to listen to them.  
  2. Increase supervision of your teen while trying to be mindful of their need for space. 
  3. Ask your teen what they think they need to keep them at the centre of decisions, especially when it’s about options for treatment or support. This can help them rebuild their sense of control and get the care that is right for them.   
  4. Encourage them to communicate how they are feeling to a trusted person. This might be you as their parent or carer, but it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes the right person for them to talk to might be another close family member, a health professional, or a religious or spiritual member of their community.  

Practical supports

  1. Reduce expectations for your teen around things like school, chores, or socialising.  
  2. Offer help with daily tasks like getting to school, preparing breakfasts or packing lunches, or managing medication. 
  3. If a teen has needed a break from expectations, they might want help to get back to their regular routine too.

It’s also important to remember to support yourself. While the immediate focus should be on keeping the teen safe, it’s a good idea to build or lean on your own support network. You could consider:  

  • Speaking with your GP 
  • Speaking to your own psychologist or counsellor
  • Connecting with friends and family members, or religious, spiritual or community supports

While recent research has shown that it’s important to involve parents and families in supporting teens at risk of suicide1, 2, more research is needed to find more ways of supporting parents and teens during periods of increased risk, like the days and months after being discharged from a hospital with suicide risk3. Researchers at Deakin University and Monash Health in partnership with the VPC are currently developing a new suicide prevention program to better support parents and teens after a teen presents to an Emergency Department with suicide-related concerns. They are keen to hear from parents who have experience of having a teen with suicidal thoughts to contribute to the development of their initiative. If you would like to participate, please go to: 

Key points: 

  1. If you’re concerned about your teen’s immediate safety, call 000
  2. If you’re concerned your teen is thinking about suicide, it’s best to ask them directly. 
  3. Parents can play an important role in keeping a teen at risk of suicide safe by using the strategies listed on this page.  
  4. Providing emotional and practical supports with a focus on maintaining a teen’s sense of control and autonomy can help. 
  5. It’s important to build or use your own supports for yourself if your teen has experienced suicide risk. 

Authors details:

  • A/Prof Glenn Melvin
  • Dr Ruth Tatnell
  • Mr Lachlan James

Author affiliations: School of Psychology, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia.  


1 Czyz, E. K., Horwitz, A. G., Yeguez, C. E., Ewell Foster, C. J., & King, C. A. Parental self-efficacy to support teens during a suicidal crisis and future adolescent emergency department visits and suicide attempts. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. 2018;47(Suppl 1):S384–S396.

2 Simes, D., Shochet, I., Murray, K., & Sands, I. G. A systematic review of qualitative research of the experiences of young people and their caregivers affected by suicidality and self-harm: Implications for family-based treatment. Adolescent Research Review. 2022;7(2):1–23.

3 Forte, A., Buscajoni, A., Fiorillo, A., Pompili, M., & Baldessarini, R. J. Suicidal Risk Following Hospital Discharge: A Review. Harvard review of psychiatry. 2019;27(4):209–216. 

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