If your teen has any of these signs or if you're worried for any reason that your child may have suicidal thoughts, it's no time to tiptoe around the question. Ask directly: "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"
If the answer is "yes," "sometimes," or "maybe," do not try to downplay or dismiss your daughter's feelings. Don't use phrases like: "That's crazy." "You're such a drama queen." "You're making too much of it." Instead, say: "I'm sorry you're feeling so bad." "How can I help?" "We'll get through this together." "Let's keep you safe."
Take her seriously and seek professional assistance immediately. If you're not sure where to turn, call her doctor and ask for recommendations of counselors or therapists in your area who specialize in preventing teen suicide.
In addition, sit down with your daughter and make a list together of people she can trust. Reassure her that she has people who are always there to talk with her and who care about her. Include on that list the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK. Encourage her to carry it with her, so she has it anytime she needs it.
Finally, make sure your home is safe. If you have pills your daughter could use to hurt herself, lock them up. If you have a gun, don't just lock it up but get it out of the house. Taking these steps will help keep your daughter safe.
It can be hard to talk to teens about suicide. But as difficult as these conversations may be, as her parent, you play a central role in helping your daughter feel safe enough to talk about her painful feelings. Many suicides are preventable when people get the help they need. For more information, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. -- Timothy Lineberry, M.D., Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
(Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn't replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to email@example.com. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.)