Skip to main content

Tips and conversation starters for talking to youth about suicide

By Kate Walker

Adult comforting youth
When someone in your community attempts or dies by suicide, everyone can be affected. Young people may have strong feelings and need your help understanding them. Cari Michaels and I assembled these practical tips and conversation starters for parents, educators and other caring adults when talking with youth about suicide.

How to approach the conversation

When talking to children about suicide, start by asking them what they know. During the conversation, be sure to ask how your child is feeling, listen to the answers carefully, and encourage questions. Be honest with your responses and encourage help-seeking if needed. It’s also key to keep your responses developmentally appropriate.
  • Young children need simple information balanced with reassurance and ideas about how to cope. Encourage all questions and feelings. Do not give graphic details. Focus instead on how to cope with feelings of sadness, loss and anger.
  • Pre-teens may want concrete information. Start by asking them what they have heard about the person or about suicide to correct misinformation and begin the conversation at the young person’s level of understanding. Let them know that mental illnesses are treatable in most cases, but for some, they can be fatal. If asked how, give basic facts but not a lot of detail.
  • Teens have likely been exposed to suicide, and the older they are, the more direct you need to be. For example, you might say “Because they felt hopeless and weren’t thinking clearly, they weren’t able to think of other ways to seek help or cope besides suicide.”

Ways to explain suicide

  • “Suicide is when a person is so very ill and so deeply sad that they choose to make their body stop working on purpose.”
  • “They had a very serious illness in their brain that made them very confused and so sad that they didn’t want to live anymore.”
  • “Brains can get sick, just like other important parts of our body. Their brain got sick with an illness called depression. Although most people with depression get better, this illness got so bad it muddled up the way they thought and felt and caused them to do something to make their body die.”

Talking about suicide is difficult, but it’s too important to avoid. Research shows that talking about suicide doesn’t increase risk of suicide. Instead it can dispel misinformation and create a safe space to ask questions and seek support.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

-- Kate Walker, Extension professor and specialist in youth work practice

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Oh, Kate, this is such an important and challenging topic! Thanks to you and Cari for taking it on and sharing it with all of us. And thanks for getting so concrete as to include talking points to help guide adults through these conversations when we are often broken-hearted, too. One thing I would add is that it is important to let young people know that this is why it is important to take their friends seriously if they are sounding hopeless or saying they want to die. And that sometimes seeking help from any adult might even mean breaking trust with a friend if they said, "Don't tell anyone". But it is always better to have your friend mad at you and still alive.

  2. Such important additions - thank you, Kathryn. For anyone concerned about a young person's safety, Cari and I recommend Talking to Teens: Suicide Prevention from the APA:


Post a Comment