How to Talk with Teens about Suicide

Teens deal with serious, real-life issues in their day-to-day lives, which is why we aren’t afraid to tackle heavy topics at Switch, our youth ministry at Life.Church.

Suicide can be a tough topic to address, but starting the conversation with students might help alleviate some of the stigma and even save a life. Below you’ll find a few tips on how to broach this difficult subject—from a biblical perspective—with your youth ministry.

Remind them to watch for signs in themselves and others.

Recognizing suicidal thoughts can be difficult, but certain behaviors indicate there might be a problem:

  • Changes in eating habits or sleeping patterns
  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Loss of energy, motivation, and interest
  • Withdrawal and increased isolation
  • Statements about hopelessness, worthlessness, or self-harm

Let teens know if they notice symptoms in themselves or in someone else, it’s time to ask for help. As we’ll learn below, depression and suicidal thoughts can be overcome with support, counseling, prayer, and medical help, if needed. But the first step is to recognize the problem and begin the journey to healing.

Remind them about the difference between depression and sadness.

It’s especially helpful to communicate that depression and sadness are not the same thing. Sadness is a feeling, and feelings change regularly. Feelings are normal responses to the things we encounter in everyday life: frustrations, a sad movie, getting a gift, losing a pet. Depression is a prolonged period of hopelessness, sadness, or lethargy that can have both emotional and medical causes.

Help students realize there is a difference, and that depression is something that God can heal.

Remind them that the church is a safe place to open up.

When someone is depressed, it’s common for them to feel alone, detached, and disconnected. Our struggles grow best in the dark, so let teens know that your church and their small group are safe places to open up and talk about what they are going through.

Train small group leaders and students to recognize the signs mentioned above and open the lines of communication with teens. Asking tough questions can seem hard, but speaking up and reaching out can save a life.

A simple, non-threatening yet direct approach is best, and here are a few steps to start helping kids who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts:

  • Ask questions to assess the situation. If you think someone is hurting, approach them with love and a calm spirit, but don’t be afraid to ask specific questions. It’s okay to let someone know that you’re concerned about them and ask if they’re considering harming themselves.
  • Listen. Take off-hand comments seriously, because they can be clues to a deeper problem.
  • Be there. Meet them in the midst of their pain. Help them feel heard and acknowledged—not judged.
  • Help them connect. You can’t do it alone, and there are many tools and resources available to provide help. A support system involves individuals like a trusted family member or friend, pastor, medical doctor, counselor, etc.
  • Pray. Believe in the power of prayer and know that God hears us. Pray for healing and that those who are struggling would know God is in control and grasp the love and value He has for them.

Remind them there is always hope in Christ.

Teens get plenty of mixed messages about suicide from all angles. It can be difficult to assess the situation or know where to turn, but in addition to connecting students with mental health professionals, we should connect them to Christ. Providing a biblical perspective can offer hope when they feel hopeless and bleak. Because of Christ, we don’t lose hope, and here are three reminders why:

  • God loves and values us.
  • God has an amazing plan for our lives.
  • God can give us the strength to overcome any struggle.

There’s nothing we can do to earn or lose God’s love, so we always have hope. For group discussion, ask students (1) what earthly things they try to put their hope in, and (2) what it looks like to put our hope in God.

For more details and resources on this topic, check out Identity, our Switch series that tackles suicide and other themes; Overcoming Thoughts of Suicide and Self-Harm, a YouVersion Bible Plan; and You Can Overcome Suicide, a Life.Church post.

Note: While these are general tips, it is not legal advice. Make sure you are familiar with and follow the laws/legalities in your specific area. As governed by your local laws, always address non-physical incident reports and remind your leaders to report any time they feel a student is a danger to themselves or others.

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