What should I do if I'm convinced that my adolescent child is seriously depressed and could be suicidal?
If you believe the danger is imminent, get professional help right away. While you're making the necessary contacts, take steps to ensure that your teenager is not left alone – not even for a few moments. Most suicides happen when the depressed individual is by himself or in the company of another suicidal person. So don't let him out of your sight, and make sure that every possible means of harming himself – firearms, ropes, prescription drugs, etc. – is removed from the house. If there is no help close by, take him to a place where he can be kept safe. If you can't put him under family supervision, call 911 or take him directly to a local Emergency Room.
If the situation seems serious but not urgent, try to get your teen to open up and talk. Any hint of suicidal thoughts or tendencies on the part of a young person should receive immediate attention – it's always better to err on the side of caution. Don't be afraid to press him with some direct questions. You might begin with something like, "Where are these negative feelings coming from?" or "Have you ever felt so bad that you've actually thought about taking your own life?" It could be especially helpful and revealing to ask, "Exactly what would have to change for you to feel better?" You may also want to get an official psychiatric diagnosis in order to determine more clearly what's behind the depression and the allusions to suicide. Your teen may be struggling with an anxiety disorder, a bipolar condition, or some kind of substance abuse.
Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of trying to face this challenge alone. Reach out to friends, family, neighbors and other trusted members of the community. Build a support network. Pull in anybody you can think of who might be able to help – a pastor, a youth leader, a teacher, a coach, or a professional counselor. Ask your teen, "Who do you think you could talk to about these negative feelings?" If he suggests a name, follow through by offering to set up an appointment with that person on his behalf. Become a good listener and take his feelings seriously. Pray with him and for him. Get a physician's evaluation of his condition and be willing to consider appropriate medication.
You should also feel free to contact Focus on the Family's Counseling department. One of our caring Christian therapists would be happy to discuss your situation with you. Our counselors are also in a position to provide you with a list of referrals to mental health professionals practicing in your local area.
Suicide (resource list)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
New Hope Telephone Counseling Center – 1-714-NEW-HOPE (639-4673)