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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

September 02, 2021, Allan, Carla C., PhD
It’s Okay to Ask if They’re Okay: Why Every Parent Should Check in On Their Child’s Mental Health
It’s Okay to Ask if They’re Okay: Why Every Parent Should Check in On Their Child’s Mental Health

We have all seen the headlines: the pandemic has been hard on kid’s mental health. With all the uncertainty and change in our lives, it’s easy to feel more stressed and alone. Even before the pandemic, suicide was the second leading cause of death for kids aged 10 and up.

The good news is, we know, more than ever before, about how to prevent suicide. And, you don’t have to be a mental health professional to use our most powerful prevention tools. Here are 6 steps every parent can take right now:

  1. Talk to your children and teens about their feelings. You may use different words as they grow, but the basics are the same. Show them you care by asking. Listen with your whole body (eyes, ears, and phone-free hands!). Repeat the major points back so they know you heard them.
  2. Let them know that feeling nervous, sad, or mad is normal and that we all must grow the skills to accept and manage these feelings. If you can, be open about your own struggles and what helps you cope.
  3. If you get the feeling that your kid is thinking about suicide, ask them directly. Research shows that asking the question does not plant the idea, but it lets you help them, if needed. We talk to kids about all kinds of other risky things like staying away from drugs and alcohol and wearing seatbelts. Suicide should be no different. Have you ever thought about dying? Do you ever wish you weren’t here anymore?
  4. If they say yes, ask them if they have ever thought about how they could die. You’ll want to know if they have ever done anything before to hurt themselves and whether they have ever made any plans for how they die. You’ll also want to know if they are thinking about killing themselves right now. If your child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or take them to the nearest emergency room. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  5. Thank them for talking to you and let them know they’re not alone. You are there for them, no matter what. If professional help is needed, start with your pediatrician, or go to your insurance company’s online directory. Your local community mental health center is also a great place to start.
  6. Make your home safer. It’s hard to be a kid and emotions can be fast and hot. Studies have shown that it often takes ten minutes or less to go from thinking about suicide to attempting suicide. We need to slow kids down by making it harder for them to get a hold of dangerous things. Lock up medications, particularly prescription medications as well as Advil and Tylenol. Store firearms safely. Lock up guns and ammunition separately.

Together, we can prevent suicide. You are not alone.

Additional Resources

  • 1-800-273-TALK is a national support hotline that can talk to you or your child.
  • Teen Lifeline in Phoenix is staffed by teens for teens and their number is 602-248-8336 (TEEN) or 1-800-248-8336 (TEEN).
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