Heather Wyatt, a mother from Mississippi, recently spoke out about her daughter’s suicide last September. She is sharing her family’s story in the hopes of raising awareness for the high rates of suicide among young people: suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 10-24. Wyatt’s daughter, Aubreigh, was 13-years-old and experienced bullying, yet showed no discernible signs of depression or suicidal ideation. One of the most devastating realizations as a parent is that they can’t always protect their children. However, one of the things that Wyatt advocates for is speaking to your kids candidly about suicide and their mental health.

While addressing this topic with your child can be challenging and emotionally heavy, it is crucial. There is a misconception that discussing suicide with young people will “plant” the idea in their minds. In reality, open discussions help reduce the stigma surrounding depression and suicidal thoughts, letting children and teenagers know that they are not alone in their darkest moments.

Here are ways to talk about mental health and suicide with your child at each stage of their development: 


Elementary Schoolers (7-10):

At this early age, the topic might arise if someone connected to your child commits suicide or is struggling with their mental health. In this case, let your child take the lead on asking questions. Answer them honestly, while also making sure not to provide too much detail that your child may not be ready for. Most importantly, emphasize the importance of seeking help for your hard feelings. In addition, characterizing mental illness as something visual, like a “dark cloud,” can help your child understand that someone’s mental health struggles are not their fault. For example, “Nora had a disease called depression for many years. It made her feel sad, like a dark cloud had come over her. I wish that she had been able to get more help.” 


Middle Schoolers (11-13):

At this development age, it’s likely that your child may already have their own impressions of suicide and mental health, influenced by peers or media. Emotions are heightened during puberty, and your child may have heard people discussing mental health struggles or may be experiencing their own. Again, let your child take the lead and gauge what their beliefs are about suicide. Ask, “What have you heard about suicide, and what do you believe to be true about the causes of suicide?” This gives you the opportunity to correct misinformation, and communicate that these thoughts are not shameful. In addition, parents need to ask their kids if they’ve ever had any thoughts of killing themselves, or if they have any friends who have. Asking this question directly will help your child feel safe and trusting that they can turn to you for hard topics: these feelings are significant, but manageable with support.


Teenagers (14-18):

At this maturing age, continue the conversation and emphasize that mental health conditions are not a result of someone’s weakness or lack of willpower, but something that is treatable. Ensure they know what to do if they or a peer experience suicidal thoughts. Together, create a safety plan outlining who they can reach out to for support, whether it’s you or another trusted adult. Stress that, while their peers’ mental health is not their responsibility, they can help by encouraging them to seek help from a trusted adult or professional, or by reaching out to resources like the Crisis Text Line.


Disclaimer: All blog posts are intended for educational purposes and cannot replace direct consultation with a professional provider. If you are worried about your child’s wellbeing, it’s best to seek professional help. While mental health services may feel inaccessible, there are many sliding scale services available, and resources like the Crisis Text Line offer 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors that you or your child may reach out to. If this is an emergency, contact the Crisis Text Line by sending the text HOME to 741741.