Suicide is a difficult topic, but we have to talk about it. As with adults, teens can be susceptible to this awful phenomenon. Parents, guardians, teachers and other trusted people in a teenager's life all play a key role when it comes to understanding the signs of suicide-related thoughts, feelings or behaviours.
Helpful language when talking to teens about suicide
It's not easy to talk with your teen about this issue, but when you have that conversation (or if they bring it up), don't back away from it.
Always take care to frame the issues in a way that's helpful. Pay close attention to the way you're using language and context. The words you choose can affect the conversation in profound ways. Keep stories of hope, recovery and help-seeking at the forefront of your conversation. Create a space where they feel comfortable sharing their feelings. Let them know that you love them and help is always available.
Below are some examples of helpful language from a guide put together by our partner Orygen – an organisation focused on mental health services for young people. These points are important to bear in mind when talking about suicide:
- Try to say that the person "died by suicide" (instead of "commit suicide" – see the examples of unhelpful language below).
- Indicate that suicide is complex and that many factors contribute to a person ending their life.
- Include messages of hope and recovery.
- Tell others who might be thinking about suicide where and how they could get help.
- Include information on factors that help protect against suicide, such as engaging in their favourite activities and hanging out with their friends.
- Indicate that suicide is preventable, help is available, treatments are successful and recovery is possible.
- Encourage young people to talk about what they are feeling – that might be to a friend, a trusted adult or a professional.
Conversely, there are ways to talk about suicide that don't move the conversation in the right direction.
- Don't use words that describe suicide as criminal or sinful (say "died by suicide" rather than "committed suicide"). This may suggest to someone that what they are feeling is wrong or unacceptable or make someone worry that they'll be judged if they ask for help.
- Don't say that suicide is a "solution" to problems, life stressors or mental health difficulties.
- Don't use words that glamorise, romanticise or make suicide seem appealing.
- Don't use words that trivialise or make suicide seem less complex than it is.
- Don't blame one event or imply that the suicide was the result of a single cause, such as bullying or social media use.
- Don't use judgmental phrases that reinforce myths, stigma, stereotypes or suggest nothing can be done about suicide.
- Don't provide detailed information about the actual suicide or suicide attempt.
- Do not provide information about suicide methods or the location of the suicide.
- Don't acknowledge if there have been a number of suicide acts at a particular location or 'hot spot'.
Watch out for suicidal behaviours in teens on social media
One warning sign of suicidal behaviour is your teen saying things such as "I want to disappear" or "I want to end this". They may indicate that they're feeling hopeless and helpless, or suggest that they're a burden to others. They may have lost interest in the things that they usually do, or they may be acting impulsively.
As highlighted by Orygen, other signs that a young person may be suicidal can include:
- Threatening to hurt themselves or suicide
- Looking for ways to die by suicide (e.g. seeking access to pills, weapons or other means)
- Deliberately hurting themselves (i.e. by scratching, cutting or burning)
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
- Rage, anger, seeking revenge
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Feeling trapped, like there's no way out
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family or society
- Anxiety, agitation, changes in sleep or appetite
- Dramatic changes in mood
- No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
In watching out for this behaviour, these are actions that parents, guardians and others can take to support teens showing signs of suicidal behaviour.
Actions parents can take to support teens:
If you're wondering how to get started after your teen has shown warning signs or said they'd like to talk with you, here are some ways you can support them. This is a list informed by the work done by Forefront: Innovation in suicide prevention.
Responding to dangerous online "challenges"
Online "suicide challenges" or "games" usually include a series of harmful tasks that are given to people over a set period of time, often increasing in severity. Content discussing these challenges are against Meta's policies. Meta removes this content and in some circumstances, we may even remove the accounts that posted it.
If you see your teen sharing this kind of content (or if they tell you they've seen classmates sharing it), here are some suggestions regarding what to do next:
- Understand the risk. Don't dismiss the danger. Everyone has a role to play in stopping the spread of this content.
- Actively listen. If young people express any concerns or worries about things they have seen online or posts or comments that friends or others have made, it is important to listen and offer support.
- Consider the impact. Even forwarding warnings about online self-harm and suicide challenges can be triggering to some people. It's important for people to stay informed, but please be mindful of what you share related to the topic of suicide, and how it can affect others.
- Report it. Anyone can report inappropriate online material that is harmful or distressing to social media channels. The platforms will review and potentially remove content that goes against their policies.
- Talk it over. If you have teens (or work with young people), find ways to talk with them about their online activity in a way that encourages them to share what they're doing or looking at. If asking directly about a challenge doesn't work, try more indirect ways of finding out. Young people need to know that they can trust their parents and won't be punished for being honest.
For additional online resources on well-being and online safety on Meta's technologies, visit our suicide prevention hub or our Safety Centre.
To better support the people who use our technologies, Meta partners with these expert organisations:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline +1 800 273 8255
Crisis Text Line 741 741