Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-aged people and experts say parents should discuss the topic with kids before they leave home for school.
To help parents begin these discussions, here are some tips:
Encourage your children to express their feelings from a young age.
“It’s important for kids to grow up in an environment in which they see adults dealing with difficult moments so they have coping tools to relieve them of stress,” said Christine Crawford, a psychiatrist and the associate medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “So by the time college rolls around, “They’ve had years of watching family members navigate the complexities of being human.”
Parents can also share how they’ve handled stressful situations to show how to identify and understand emotions.
Note red flags
Parents need to be able to recognize mental health alerts. One sign that its time for your kid to see a professional is if they aren’t interested in hanging out with friends, they’re spending more time alone in their room, they’re eating or sleeping less and it’s harder for them to get out of bed, according to Doreen Marshall, a psychologist and vice president of mission engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Use these talking points
Crawford suggests approaching your kid by expressing that you have noticed changes in their behavior and asking “what thoughts do you have about how you can feel better.”
Parents can also use conversation starters like “‘I just heard something on TV about kids and mental health. Do you or your friends ever have thoughts of suicide.’”
Dialogue can be ongoing for kids who already have a history of depression. Pay attention to potential signs that they are struggling.
“If a kid says, ‘I haven’t slept all week’ or ‘I miss my friends’ they become cues to ask more questions,” said Julie Cerel, a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky.
Frame mental health care as a daily to-do
Cerel said mental health should be seen as a safety issue, similar to wearing a seatbelt.
“If you’re touring a college campus, you can ask, ‘Where is the mental health office?'” she said. “Or, ask your kid, ‘Do you know where the on-campus post office is? The athletic center? The mental health clinic?”
Explore these resources
Check out resources to learn more about mental and emotional health, suicide prevention and creating safety plans. Some of those resources include Seize the Awkward, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The Jed Foundation and Ad Council.