Working with Parents of Suicidal Youth

Restricting access to lethal means is a very important intervention. It is as sensible as taking the car keys away from an intoxicated individual. It can mean the difference between life and death for a young person.

Restricting access to lethal means has been cited as one of the most important ways to reduce youth suicide(1). A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked individuals ages 15-34 how much time elapsed between the time they decided to attempt suicide and the time they took action. Nearly one quarter stated that less than five minutes passed. Other studies have followed victims of nearly lethal attempts and found that 10 to 20 years later, 90% or more had not died by suicide(2).

Imagine a 14-year-old running out of the kitchen after an argument with a parent. The youth reaches into a closet to discover a loaded firearm, and pulls the trigger. A life is suddenly and sadly lost. Now imagine there is no gun, and in the 15-20 minutes it takes to find a rope, gather pills or fill the garage with fumes, the anger felt may have passed and/or a family member may have intervened to help. For some youth, the best form of suicide prevention is putting time and/or distance between the impulse to die and a form of lethal means.

  1. Inform the parents that you believe their adolescent is at risk for suicide and why you think so. For example, if you are working with an adolescent who has made one attempt, it is important to inform the parent or caretaker that, "Adolescents who have made a suicide attempt are at risk for another attempt. One suicide attempt is a very strong risk factor for another."  
  2. Tell parents or caretakers that they can reduce the risk of suicide by removing firearms from the house and restricting access to other lethal means. Research shows that the risk of suicide doubles if a firearm is in the house, even if the firearm is locked up. It is extremely important to help parents or caretakers understand the importance of removing access to firearms and other lethal means. Half of Maine’s youth suicides are committed with a firearm. This is important information for all parents, even if they do not own a firearm. Access to lethal means may be readily available at the home of other family members, friends, or neighbors. Every effort must be made to remove all access to lethal means. 
  3. Educate parents about different ways to dispose of, or at the very least, limit access to a firearm. Officers from local police departments, sheriff’s offices, or state police barracks are willing to help to temporarily remove firearms from the environment of a suicidal individual. The information on the following pages will inform you on what to expect in terms of procedures for removing, storing, or disposing of firearms.  Questions about removing firearms.

In Five Minutes or Less You Can Tell a Parent These Three Things:

  1. That their adolescent is at risk for suicide and why you think so.
  2. They can reduce the risk of suicide by getting firearms and other lethal means out of the house.
  3. There are several ways to dispose of, or at the very least, limit access to a firearm.


(1)Hemenway, David.  Private Guns Public Health.  The University of Michigan Press.  Ann Harbor, 2004.

(2)Barber, Catherine, MPA.  Fatal Connection The link between guns and suicide.  Advancing Suicide Prevention.  July/August 2005, Vol I, Issue 2.