Children and Young People

As a responsible adult, with a child who is feeling suicidal, what can you do to help? (A.L.E.R.T.)

Ask them how they were feeling before it happened and how they are feeling now. Talking about suicide does not make it more likely to happen. Try to be patient if they are angry or refuse to talk. If they won’t talk to you, maybe they would talk to a friend or sibling. It may be that writing things down is an easier way for them to communicate with you.

Listen: this is the most important thing you can do. Treat them with respect, and try not to be judgmental or critical. Is it important to try to raise their self-esteem.

Empathise by showing that you really do care about them, no matter what, and are trying to understand things from their point of view. Words don’t always matter. The touch of a hand or a hug can go a long way to show that you care.

Reassure them that desperate feelings are very common and can be overcome. Things can and do change, help can be found and there is hope for the future. People do get better!

Try to give practical support, and help them to cope with any extra pressures. It may not be possible to deal with all the things that are troubling them, but between you agree on what you will do if a suicidal crisis happens again. If they are living away encourage them to come home for a visit or go to see them yourself. This will give you an opportunity to assess the situation. Be clear there are always other options.

For example, if they are at University they can:

  • leave the course for good
  • have a break from the course and defer a year
  • change to a university nearer home.

DON’T…

Put them down or do things that might make them feel worse. A suicide attempt suggests that self-esteem is already very low.

Abandon or reject them in any way. Your help, support and attention are vital if they are to begin to feel that life is worth living again.

Relax your attentions just because they seem to be better. It doesn’t mean that life is back to normal for them yet. They may be at risk for quite a while.

Nag: although it may be well meant. Nobody wants to be pestered all the time.

Intrude: try to balance being watchful with a respect for privacy. Don’t ignore what has happened.

Criticise their actions: however you may be feeling about their suicide attempt, try to remember the pain and turmoil that they were, and may still be, going through. Don’t take their behaviour personally – it was not necessarily directed at you.

Taken from papyrus-uk.org