When to take your teen’s suicide threats seriously

Suicide is a serious matter, but we often hear teens make “jokes” like “If I have to look at one more math equation, I’m going to kill myself,” or “I’d rather die than have to wake up early tomorrow.” 

While their tone may be light, the implication can still be worrisome. When should they be taken seriously? Many parents may think that those types of jokes are harmless or “teenage humor,” so they just brush them off. But jokes can turn into threats, and threats shouldn’t be shrugged off. Trying to get your adolescent to open up about their thoughts and feelings can be a challenge. This makes it even more important to know when jokes aren’t just jokes, and when suicide threats need to be taken seriously. 

7 signs that your teens suicide threats should be taken seriously

Suicidality is a sense of despair and sorrow that can lead to thoughts and behavior of ending one’s life. The thought of resorting to suicide can stem from hopelessness and wanting to permanently end the pain one feels on a daily basis. There are many symptoms that someone with suicidality may exhibit that can let you know when they are being serious about their threats. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Social withdrawal — It’s common for teens with suicidal thoughts to distance themselves from others because they feel unable to connect with people in their mindset of hopelessness.
  • Means gathering — People who plan to end their life will obtain the materials to do so ahead of time, such as purchasing a weapon or excessive amounts of pills.
  • Substance abuse — Many teens experiment with drinking and drugs, and it’s always concerning for a parent. But an increase in alcohol or drugs may be used by people with suicidality to temporarily numb the pain.
  • Impulsive behavior — Teens with suicidality may exhibit dangerous and spur-of-the-moment behavior, like reckless driving.
  • Belongings being given away — If your teenager is donating their possessions, or giving them away to friends and family, they may be doing so because they feel they won’t need them any longer as they plan to take their own life.
  • Personality changes — Many parents may see emotional changes in their adolescent as “typical moody teen” behavior. But a person with suicidality will show changes in their personality, such as an increase in anxiety and irritability.
  • Meaningful goodbyes — Teens with plans to take their own life may speak to you in a way that sounds like it will be the last time they will see or talk to you. These can be out-of-the-blue, often heartfelt, statements like, “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” 

How to approach your adolescent when the threats turn serious

There are steps that you can take when you notice symptoms of suicidality in your teenager, and realize that it’s time to take them seriously. 

The first step is to make them feel validated and assure them that they are safe to be open about their problems. That means making sure they know that their thoughts and feelings are important and understood. Use responses like, “It sounds like you are going through a lot of emotional pain right now and are having trouble working through it.”

This goes hand in hand with making sure they know you support them and will stand by them through their mental health journey. You can display support with statements like, “I’m here with you and for you, and I’m not going anywhere.” Letting them know that there is someone by their side can make them see that they are not as alone as they may feel.

How to take action when suicide threats are taken seriously

As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” While verbal communication and support are essential in cases of suicidality, there are also things you can do yourself to decrease the risk of them taking that final step. You can take their means out of their possession. For instance, you could take away weapons, poisonous products, ropes, plastic bags, and drugs (both prescription and illicit). 

If you feel that they are at immediate risk for suicide, call 911 or take them to the hospital. If you think that the risk isn’t critical, you can reach out to a mental health provider or pediatrician for a mental health evaluation. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

How Lightfully Behavioral Health can provide treatment for serious suicide threats

Realizing that your adolescent is struggling with suicidality is frightening and heartbreaking, but we are here to help when their suicide threats become serious. Change is possible. When your teen makes suicide threats, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, to help your teen start working toward the fullest, brightest version of themselves.

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