College, Suicide, and How You Can Help

“Here are a few things that you can do as a parent to support a teen or emerging adult who may be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts.”

Depression and suicide are still somewhat taboo topics in our society, but they’re topics that parents of teens need to be considering and learning more about. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, and about one in five people will experience depression by the time they are 25. There is not a specific “type” of person who will experience depression or even a specific trigger for this mental illness; anyone can struggle with depression, even if there doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause.

Parents may feel helpless if they believe or know that their child is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, especially if their child becomes withdrawn and refuses to talk about what they’re going through. However, there are strategies that parents can use to help their child through this difficult time. It’s especially important for parents to reach out to their child and seek additional sources of support after a suicide attempt, as the feelings of guilt and shame associated with this attempt may exacerbate depression and place the young adult at a higher risk for a second suicide attempt.

Here are a few things that you can do as a parent to support a teen or emerging adult who may be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts.

Demonstrate acceptance and a lack of judgment. Because feelings of shame are common after a suicide attempt, parents need to show their child that they are still loved unconditionally. Stress to your child that depression is not a sign of weakness—it’s a real mental health problem that affects many people and needs to be taken seriously.

Offer your support. Although your young adult may try to hide what they’re going through and resist going to you for help, remind him or her that you are there to provide whatever kind of support he or she needs during this difficult time.

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Empathize. Do your best to understand what your child is feeling, even if those feelings are surprising to you. It’s common for many young adults who have attempted suicide to feel angry; let your child know it’s okay to feel this way and that they can express their emotions, rather than forcing their feelings into hiding.

Establish open communication. By listening to your child without judgment and respecting their right to feel however they are feeling, you will be establishing a safe, honest channel of communication. This will make it easier for your child to come forward for help rather than you feeling like you have to read his or her mind.

Encourage the young adult to return to activities they once enjoyed. Although young adults who are experiencing depression may be tempted to withdraw from their usual routine, it can be valuable for them to return to activities that give them a sense of meaning and competence, such as a sport, a musical group, or other extracurriculars.

Seek outside help. Just like any other illness, depression needs to be treated, and your young adult may benefit from professional counseling. By attending therapy or counseling sessions, young adults can learn how to change negative thinking, better communicate their feelings, build meaningful connections with the people in their lives, return to activities they enjoy, and maintain emotional resilience.

To learn more about helping a young adult who is experiencing depression, including how to look for signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, check out this infographic from Yellowbrick.

-Matt Zajechowski

Julie Smith
If you haven’t guessed by the website name, my name is Julie Smith. I’m a licensed psychotherapist, consultant and author. I am dedicated to navigating the often uncertain world of adolescents.

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