Preventing Suicide in Teens

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

His son had become increasingly despondent over the past few weeks. Any time the father tried to talk with him, his son would pull away. In the few times he got his son to talk, his son would make comments about how he was worthless and nothing really mattered anymore.

The father knew his son was depressed but was not sure what to do. He was getting increasingly worried that his son might try something drastic. This was the main reason he made sure all of his guns were put in the gun safe. Still, he was hesitant to ask his son about suicide as he didn’t want to give his son any ideas.

The father was right to be concerned though his inaction regarding his son’s behavior is likely to make the situation worse. Talking to family members or friends will not make a person more likely to attempt suicide. In this case, if the son was not thinking about suicide he would reject the idea. However if he was thinking about it, he would likely welcome the opportunity to talk about it. Talking about these concerns can be the first step out of the suicide danger zone.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, which has the goal of raising awareness about the issue of suicide and how to intervene if a friend or family member is contemplating it. The good news is that unlike the father above, steps can be taken to feel more comfortable intervening.

The Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group ( has highlighted a couple of suicide prevention programs that have had success in preventing suicide for middle and high school students.

The SOS Signs of Suicide program is focused on providing a school-based intervention for middle and high school students. The program focuses on screening and education. The screening is for students who are showing signs of depression and possible suicide risk. If a student is identified as being at-risk, the school notifies their parents and refers them to professional help.

In addition, the program has a video that teaches students how to identify the signs of depression and suicide in others. If students recognize these signs in friends or family, they are to acknowledge these signs, let the person know they care, and to go tell a responsible adult.

An additional approach that is highlighted by the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group is for parents and other adults to get training in QPR. QPR stands for question, persuade, and refer. In as little as 90 minutes, adults can get trained in how to recognize the warning signs and the risk factors associated with suicide. The training also teaches adults how to offer hope to the person in distress, how to ask the question about suicidal intent, and where to turn to get help.

While having the conversation about suicide with a son or daughter is never an easy task for parents, it can make a huge difference. Suicide can and does happen to families all too frequently. Parents who suspect their teen is suicidal should ask the following questions:

  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Are you thinking about killing yourself?
  • Do you have a plan?
  • Do you have a way to do it?

If a teen answers yes to these questions, it is time to immediately get help and not leave the teen alone. Reassure the teen that help is available and that the parent will help him get the right help.

As part of Suicide Prevention Week, take some time and find out how to get trained in QPR. The training can be a life-saver.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on September 11, 2015

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