How to Talk to Your Kids About Depression and Suicide

Written by: Sarah Coates

As a parent, none of us want to imagine the unthinkable. But the statistics are alarming. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among youth ages 10-14 in our state. One in five North Carolina high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021, up from 16% in 2017. One in ten reported actually making an attempt. In 2020, an unprecedented 67 children (ages 0-18) died by suicide in North Carolina (NC Child; The Voice for North Carolina’s Children).

Here are some Quick Takes about talking to your Kids/Teens about Depression and Suicide:

  • NOT talking about suicide or dying doesn’t make it go away.
  • Kids/Teens can appear happy, but feel depressed on the inside.
  • Kids/Teens can say, “My life looks perfect on the outside I should be happy, but feel very sad or depressed on the inside.” This might indicate a mental health issue that needs to be addressed by a doctor or therapist.
  • Kids/Teens experience depression, not just adults.
  • Monitor your kid’s phone and social media.

If you have an older teen and this isn’t something you’ve previously made a family policy, then invite them to share what they are writing/ posting/sharing on their phones. Listen without judgment. Approach with curiosity. “Tell me more about this.” “That’s interesting, can you elaborate more?”

It’s okay to ask your child/teen directly.

How are you feeling? Are you feeling sad? Do you ever feel sadder than sad? Do you ever think about dying? Feeling sad at times is completely normal – it’s a human emotion. But if your child’s sadness last for days or weeks, if they lose true enjoyment for the things they used to love, or if they have a plan to die – then it’s time to seek further help from a doctor or therapist.

LOCK up your medications.

Even Tylenol/Advil/ Melatonin, and other OTC meds. Kids/Teens should never have access to your adult meds or even their meds without monitoring.

If you as a parent are prone to depression or suicidal ideation, there may exist a genetic disposition or environmental factors that could impact your child.

Invite your child/teen to identify one trusted adult they can talk to without judgment or fear. A lot of kids do not want to speak to their parents, but it’s wise to have an identifiable trusted adult to whom they can talk. Identifying friends is nice. But Adults will know when to act on a safety issue and better navigate that than a peer.

If your child isn’t ready to talk, leave the invitation open for later by saying, “Whenever you want to talk, I’m here to listen and support you.” You could add “I won’t judge, and I’ll never stop supporting you, no matter what challenges you face.” I like to tell my kids, “There is NO problem too large that I can’t help you fix”.

A really great resource for parents about talking with teens about suicide is: