What Should Your Teen Do if a Friend Threatens Suicide?

By Sara jo Schwartz

Your teenager isn't suicidal (take the quiz "Is My Child Thinking of Suicide?" to learn suicide warning signs if you're not sure) or depressed (see the ShortCut "Help My Depressed Teen: What to Do Right Now"). But he or she wants to talk about suicide. Perhaps a schoolmate committed suicide recently or suicide has been in the news lately. Or maybe one of your child's friends has been talking about suicide. Your teen may be torn between loyalty to friend who has shared a secret and worry that the friend may actually carry out a suicide plan. Here's how you can help.

1. Ask your teen directly whether a friend has been hinting about killing him- or herself. Emphasize the importance of taking such suicide threats seriously.

2. Make sure your teen understands that nearly all people who are suicidal suffer from a mental illness, most often depression. With mental health therapy, depression can be controlled. Without therapy a severely depressed teen may commit suicide.

3. If your teen has a friend who is threatening to kill him- or herself, your child must take action. Yes, your child may be sharing a secret that he or she has promised not to tell. Teens who threaten suicide rarely complete their plan, but it does happen. Ask your child what is more important: breaking a promise or saving a life.

4. When a friend threatens suicide, your teen should listen sympathetically, calmly, and without judgment. Your child should not make light of the friend's problems or try to change the person's mind.

5. Then your teen must ask the friend three questions: How will you do it? Do you have what you need to carry out your plan? and When will do it? If the friend can answer these questions, your teen should call 911 and not leave him or her alone until help arrives.

6. If the friend can't answer the how, what, and when questions, suicide is still a very serious, if not immediate, risk. Your teen must tell a trusted adult such as a parent or teacher immediately. Yes, the friend will likely be angry. But after he or she has gotten help and is feeling better, the friend will be grateful that your child cared enough to do the right thing.

Sara jo Schwartz is an education writer and editor based in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Nancy Schimelpfening,