YES’ Event “13 Reasons How” Demonstrates How to Have a Conversation About Suicide
Last week, YES held its second free parent education event around the topic of teen suicide prevention. The event, titled “13 Reasons How,” was a small gathering of parents and guardians who met with two YES Behavioral Health Specialists, Michelle Brode, and Cory Lane.
The discussion opened with three prominent themes that were voiced by the concerned parents: beginning conversations with your child about mental health can be scary confusing and difficult; it’s especially challenging to directly ask questions about suicidal thinking; and many parents experience difficulty accessing quality resources for their children and themselves.
Cory and Michelle presented a role-play simulation to demonstrate concrete strategies for having conversations with teens about mental health. Cory played the part of an 18-year-old exhibiting several warning signs for suicide risk, and Michelle played the part of his mother. Michelle demonstrated the following choices a parent may use in a similar situation:
- Pick a time to start the conversation that was unlikely to provoke defensiveness, like making dinner together.
- Ask for permission to have a time-bound conversation (three-minute conversation) about how your child is doing, and then honor that agreement by ending the conversation on time.
- Sit next to your child rather than directly facing them, and do not expect eye contact.
- Express a steady level of empathy as you ask your child about their level of mental distress and suicidal thinking.
- Directly address suicidal thinking by asking whether they have considered suicide, whether they have thought about specific methods, and whether they have a current plan.
- Engage your child in a collaborative conversation by asking them about their thoughts regarding the roots of their current struggles, and what might help them feel better.
- Offer to be a resource for them moving forward, and that you’ll provide concrete support when asked.
At the end of the two-hour event, parents continued their discussions about challenges conversing with teens with limited verbal skills, a pattern of avoidant behavior, or a history of dishonest mental health challenges. Although no quick or easy answers were presented, Michelle and Cory reminded parents to root conversations about mental health in a solid foundation of trust, mutual respect, and empathy. Parents were also encouraged to seek help whenever they feel out of their element, both as a source of professional guidance and as a means of self-care.
YES continues to be committed to providing educational resources for both parents and youth in our community. Throughout the year we will provide these free educational events. Please make sure to follow us on Facebook, or subscribe to our email list to receive the most up-to-date information.
Additional Resources for further information
- Strategies for suicide risk assessment and safety planning with individuals with limited verbal skills: Mental Health for Children With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
- Support groups and other resources for parents and siblings of “identified patients”
- Community resources for young adults.
- A concrete step-by-step process of responding to suicide risk
- Five Action Steps for preventing suicide.