Why experts say it’s important to talk to your kids about suicide

By: Jordan Chavez

July 22, 2019

DENVER — Another high school in Colorado is dealing with the loss left by suicide.

Grandview High School in Aurora notified parents this weekend a senior took her own life. Her death comes less than two weeks after a former student who graduated just last year also ended her life. The school’s principal urged parents in a letter to have conversations with their kids.

Sarah Davidon, the research director and child and adolescent strategy director at Mental Health Colorado shared her expertise on how parents can talk to their kids about suicide.

You can watch their full conversation in the video below:

9NEWS: Suicide is a really difficult subject for a lot of people to talk about. Why is that so hard?

Davidon: I think suicide has a lot of complicating factors. I think it’s hard for young people to talk about as well as hard for people our age and people who are parents to talk about because of the complicating factors of mental health, of not admitting to sort of having issues – sort of the stigma attached to it. As well as not knowing what the resources are.

Researchers have said it’s a subject we should be talking about. Is that true?

I think there’s a lot of fear that if you talk about a sensitive subject like suicide that it will motivate somebody to then contemplate suicide. But that’s not true. We know from research that’s not true. That if we talk about suicide, if we talk about some of the things that lead up to suicide we have a much better chance of addressing things early so that it doesn’t lead to a completion of suicide.

Why is that?

That’s a good question. So, I think it normalizes the conversation. I mean, certainly we don’t want to normalize the idea of suicide but we want to normalize the conversation about mental health. So, I think being able to talk about it early on, normalize the conversation of mental health and not just wait until there’s a problem or wait until there’s a crisis before we address these things can really be helpful. And honestly, talking – something as simple as talking about it can make a world of a difference.

Exactly about what age should you be talking to your kids?

I love that question because I would say from birth. There are things we can do to support our kids’ social and emotional development. It’s not just a conversation about preventing suicide or a conversation about suicide. It’s having conversations from early childhood on about healthy social relationships, healthy emotions.

So, for parents who are uncomfortable talking about suicide, where do you suggest they start when talking to their kids?

Supporting their social and emotional development. We really need to encourage our kids to have friendships and relationships with trusted people have a trusted adult to go to, supporting their social and emotional health. Asking some very direct questions. If there’s a concern, they’ve seen something concern to be able to talk about that with their child in a way that isn’t confrontational but instead is supportive.

A question asked a lot is ‘What signs should we be looking for?’ It’s not always as easy as looking for a sign.

I would imagine that many young people who are considering suicide might put on a pretty good front. So, I think it’s a combination of not just looking for signs but also encouraging social and emotional growth and development and sort of expression with emotions. Don’t just look for, ‘Is my son or daughter smiling today?’ But also look for, ‘What are they doing? What are their activities that they’re doing? Are they eating the same way that they have been eating before?’ Some of those things that might be not as evident when you’re looking for an expression on someone’s face. That might not tell you as much about what’s going on inside.

So, is it as simple as going up to your kid and just asking how they’re feeling or how they’re day was?

So, it’s funny. I asked my 11-year-olds this before I left today and they said, ‘You know if you probe with a whole lot of questions it can become really hard for kids.’ So, I think – what I heard from them and both my parental and work experience – I think it’s asking questions that may not be sort of such direct, pointed questions about depression or anxiety or suicide, but conversations that are kind of engaging.

Is this a conversation you can just have one time or even just a few times with your kids?

Just like having a conversation with their child isn’t going to provide all the solutions or kind of answer all the questions – it really has to be a marathon rather than a sprint.

Everyone needs a little help sometimes.

We’ve put together this list of mental health and addiction resources to help you or a loved one receive a helping hand when you need it:

Colorado Crisis Services

There are four ways to get confidential and immediate help: by phone at 1-844-493-8255, over text message (text the word “TALK” to 38255), via an online chat service, or at walk-in centers throughout metro Denver, northern, the southeast region and the western slope. Many of these services are available 24/7.

Trained counselors are available to help with relationship problems, depression, bullying, stress, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, family crisis and more.


Safe2Tell allows students, parents and community members to anonymously report anything that is concerning or threatening. According to their website, those who use the service can help stop a friend from committing suicide, get a friend to stop using drugs, or keep a bully from continuing to make other students miserable.

Tips can be made by calling 1-877-542-7233. They can also be submitted online, or via the Safe2Tell app.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support for those in crisis 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado

The department offers outpatient counseling for individuals and families; intensive counseling and medication evaluation through a partial hospitalization program; and intensive individual, group and family day outpatient counseling programs.

Learn more and schedule an appointment by calling 720-777-6200 or by visiting their website.

University of Denver Counseling Services Clinic

DU offers counseling services for adults, children, couples, families, etc. at affordable rates. The sessions are provided by graduate student counselors under direct supervision of licensed psychologists and a peer consultation group. Prices range from $5 – $30 per session.

Mental Health Colorado

This advocacy organization hosts a variety of online mental health screening in both English and Spanish, a mental health toolkit for schools, a page dedicated to the latest mental health research, as well as a variety of events throughout the year.

Pro Bono Mental Health and Counseling Program

Spark the Change’s Pro Bono Mental Health Program connects volunteer therapists, counselors and other professionals with low-income Coloradans who are in need of the help. Call 1-844-380-6355 and if you qualify, you’ll be matched with a counselor.

Mental Health America

Take online mental health screens to see where you’re at, research different mental health conditions and treatments, get tips for talking about your mental health, find worksheets for improving your mental health or staying healthy, etc.

Originally appeared on 9News.