How to work with a suicidal teen

Yesterday I talked about how you tell that you have a suicidal teen. Today I’m going to share some pointers on how to survive (and help the other person survive) a suicidal episode.

Listen For Warning Signs

Statements Like:  “I don’t think I can deal with this anymore.”  “____ would be better off if I wasn’t around, born, etc” or  Statements depicting lack of hope.
Other warning signs include: Giving away ‘cherished’ possessions, Increased Isolation and severe Mood Changes.  Especially if you have a teen who is going through a rough patch, and they get ten thousand times better.  They are better because (often) they have made a choice to end it all.  They are happy they “resolved” the problem.

1) Stay Calm

Stay Calm.  Many suicides happen because nobody notices.  Sometimes teens will make these gestures to an adult in hopes that they will get caught.  (Take this loaded gun out of my hands…).  The number one element in preventing a suicide is TIME.  Take the time, keep them talking, don’t leave them… keep calm.  Don’t freak out on them for having these feelings.  Be there for them.

2) Ask direct questions about intent

Ask open and very direct questions about what they intend to do.  Some believe that asking a question will spur a thought or a behavior.  It won’t.  Ask them if they have a specific plan to kill themselves?  Are the tools readily accessible to them? (Is the gun in their lap?) How lethal are the methods (are they going to try to burn themselves with a candle, take tylenol, or gasoline and a match?)  When are they going to carry this out?  In an hour, a week, next month?  These will help you determine how desperately this teen needs help.  (the range is very desperate at this point to extremely desperate at this point.).

3) Express Concern, Empathy, but NEVER promise to keep a secret.

Be empathic, supportive and overall caring about what the teen is going through.  Don’t judge their thoughts.  NEVER PROMISE TO KEEP A SECRET.  I’ve never had or heard of a teen who won’t continue what they are going to say.  Let them know that you are there to help, and will do what is necessary to keep them safe.


Never leave a suicidal teen alone.  Always be watching them (don’t let them out of your sight).  At this time involve your supervisors, peers.  Involve their parents in what is going on.  If you feel something is imminently happening you can call 911 and explain whats happening of offer to take the teen to the ER.  (Have them sit in the back so they can’t grab your steering wheel and take you with them).  1-800- Suicide is a great resource to use also.

5) Follow Up

Stay with the teen at all times until they are in the hands of caring professionals and family.  See how you can help.  Check in with them (even in the hospital) in the days to come.  If they get admitted to a psych unit check with the MD/family/RN on the floor to see if you can visit.  Don’t abandon them.  You may also want or ask to stay with the teen or around until the crisis is past.

6) Openly Communicate with Teen

Communicate with the teen about what happened, normalize being depressed/suicidal.  (don’t celebrate it).  Let them know you are happy they are there and still around.  That you want to keep around them and to see what is next in their lives.

7) Involve Teen in Activities

Be eager to get the teen back involved in the life of the youth ministry.  Help them get attached to a small group or some other ministry that they can get involved with and become a part of.  Isolation feeds depression and suicidology.  Acceptance and belonging are two of the antidotes.  Be open and welcoming to them, but not fake, anyone can smell fake.


I hope these tips will keep you above water the next time you deal with a suicidal person.  (Hopefully you won’t have to, if you are in youth ministry you probably will at some point.)   Suicide is not a joking matter, so don’t attempt to use humor to try to call their bluff (it backfires).   If you only remember two things these are them:

Keep them Talking


Get Help/More people involved (Family, Supervisors, Counselors)

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