When a Teen Threatens Suicide

The tips given on this post are simply that…tips. This is not a fool-proof plan and are to be used as a first line of defense. Make sure to contact a licensed professional immediately.

STEP 1: Be Prepared. Know ahead of time what steps to take in this type of situation.  If you work with teens, if you are around teens, if you have teens in your home, this issue will present itself at some point in your life.  Know what to do. Know what to say.

STEP 2:  Take the threat as just that…a threat.  It is serious. It is not a joke. It is not just a means for attention.  It is real, and the fact that they are coming to you is a cry for help.  This cry for help can be as vague as a text that says, “I’m just done. I’m over it. There’s no point"  to as detailed as "I don’t see any purpose in living anymore” or “I’m so over my life. I just want to kill myself."  In both situations, it is the same level of threat.

STEP 3: Acquire information: Ask them where they are.  9 times out of 10, they will tell you. If they refuse to tell you, tell them that you have to contact their parents or the police. Sometimes they will tell you then, and if not, immediately contact the parents or the police.

STEP 4: Acquire Information: Ask them if there are other people near them. For example, if they say they are at home, ask them who else is at home.  If you have the person’s number that is near them, immediately contact that person, tell them the situation and ask them to locate the teen.  If you don’t have access to the contact info or if they tell you that they are alone, contact their parents and give them the location of the teen.  If you can not reach the parents, immediately contact the police.

STEP 5: Tell them that because they have put you in this position and because you care so much about them, that you have to contact someone to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves.  Many times they will beg you to not contact someone, try to convince you that they really aren’t serious, try to explain that they were just saying stuff and didn’t mean it, etc.  Don’t believe this.  Contact someone and go to Step 6.

STEP 6: Ask them if they have a plan to hurt themselves. If they give you any specifics like "I thought about taking a bottle of pills” or “I know where my dad’s gun is, but I don’t know if I can get into the safe,” etc. Make sure you contact the police, the parents or someone in the house if you haven’t already. The following is a list of questions you can use from

Do you have a suicide plan? (PLAN)
Do you have what you need to carry out your plan (pills, gun, etc.)? (MEANS)
Do you know when you would do it? (TIME SET)
Do you intend to commit suicide? (INTENTION)

STEP 7: Ask them to promise you that they won’t hurt themselves. If they promise, ask them how you can trust their promise. They should give you a reason. If they promise and give a reason, go to Step 7.  If they don’t, make sure to call someone if you haven’t already.

STEP 8: Ask them why they aren’t going to harm themselves. They should give you 2-3 specific reasons.  If they don’t, make sure to contact someone if you haven’t already.

STEP 9: Set up a Check-in.  Start short-term: For example, they have to call/text you in one hour. Then go Mid-Term: For example, they have to call or text you three hours from then. Then go Long-Term: For example, they have to stop by your office the next day by 9am. If they don’t abide by any of those check-in’s, contact their parents or the police immediately after the first offense and have them locate the teen. Sometimes after the initial threat is over, many people walk away from the situation thinking it is done. However, many suicide attempts happen after the teen has been “talked down” from the threat.  They have to have check-in’s.  Sometimes admitting them into the suicide watch is beneficial.  If the police are contacted, they will more than likely be admitted into the suicide watch at the hospital.

STEP 10: Breathe. No matter what happens with this teen, it is not on your hands. You do the best that you can do and do not consume yourself with questioning if you did everything you could.  When a teen threatens suicide, it is in the parents’ hands to make sure that he or she is receiving the help that they need from here on out. You can give advice. You can give insight. Ultimately, though, you have to release the situation and trust that those in authority over the teen will handle it correctly.