Supporting Parents

Family Support is Critical

When an adolescent experiences a suicidal crisis, the whole family is in crisis. If at all possible, it is important to reach out to the family for two very important reasons:

  • First, the family may very well be left without professional support or guidance in what is often a state of acute personal shock and distress. Many people do not seek help—they don’t know where to turn.
  • Second, informed parents are probably the most valuable prevention resource available to the suicidal adolescent.

Remember, a prior attempt is the strongest predictor of suicide. The goal of extending support to the parents is to help get them to a place where they can intervene appropriately to prevent this young person from attempting suicide again. Education and information are vitally important to family members and close friends who find themselves in a position to observe the at-risk individual.

Common Parental Reactions to Hearing that their Child is Suicidal

  • Acute personal shock and distress
  • Paralysis caused by anxiety
  • Confusion or denial
  • Embarrassment
  • Guilt
  • Anger or belligerence

Concerns of the Helper/Professional

  • Safety of the youth
  • Professional responsibilities
  • Gaining cooperation from parent(s)

Concerns of the Parent

  • Maintain some equilibrium
  • What to do; Where to turn for help
  • The safety of the youth

Parents May Need Support to:

  • Overcome their emotional reactions
  • Accept the seriousness of the situation
  • Recognize their key role in helping their child
  • Recognize the importance of finding (professional) help
  • Understand the importance of removing firearms from their environment
  • Identify personal coping mechanisms and support systems
  • Understand their limits
  • Establish some hope

How Gatekeepers Can be Helpful

  • "Just be there" (through the immediate crisis)
  • Reflective listening - acknowledge the impact, the fear, the anger ...
  • Avoid judging, blaming
  • Provide information and referrals
  • Emphasize safety; strongly recommend removing lethal means from the home and provide information on how to do that
  • Support any and all acceptance of responsibility and efforts to help
  • Model limit setting and self care

Things you can ask - or say - once the immediate crisis has passed:

  • How can I help?
  • How are you coping?
  • Who can you talk to? How are you in touch with these people? Would it help if I called them for you? (sometimes just picking up the phone is more than they can do for themselves)
  • "I can appreciate how this has turned your world upside down. It is great that you have been willing to get help. None of us can do this alone."
  • "How have we (professionals) been helpful? What has not been helpful? What could we do better?"