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Your child has just written you a message he’s suicidal

I do not have permission to share the letters I get from people who are hurting or ones that parents send me from their children with details of their depression and how worthless they feel. They are intensely personal. But I can share similarities I see in most of them.

They often refer to cutting or other self destructive behavior–alcohol, drugs, eating disorders are common symptoms. Every one of them mentions feeling worthless, many with a mirror metaphor. “I look in the mirror and I feel so worthless.”

Most of the letters are naked and raw emotional accounts and confessions of depression and suicidal thoughts that they cannot escape–nighttime being a fearful and lonely time for most of them.

All of them fear exposure and rejection as a result of the darkness in their souls and are ashamed of writing the message.

So what do you do if you get one of these letters?

1. First, thank God that you got the letter

I’d have given ANYTHING to get such a letter outlining in detail how my son felt and his fear of killing himself. This is a gift, a chance that you need to be thankful for once you quiet your out-of-control heartbeat. Feel lucky. Feel relieved that you now know the root of the behavior you have seen that you couldn’t figure out.

2. Tell your child that they have just demonstrated amazing courage 

Imagine how hard it would be to share your most painful secrets with another human being? Nothing makes you feel more vulnerable. Instead of following through with awful things their brain is telling them to do, they poured their heart out to you. This takes enormous courage.

3. Listen with compassion

Do not lecture. Do not panic. Do not invalidate their feelings. Invalidating would be, “You shouldn’t feel depressed. You have everything to live for!”

4. Get help. For your child and you

You are not going to personally solve this problem. You are not qualified. Your job is to get your child to the next step of care to get help and usually that is a suicide assessment. Many areas can do this by phone or in person. Emergency rooms, state mental health agencies (department of behavioral health), and behavioral health hospitals do these. Your loved one was brave to tell you and the next step is to let you help them help themselves.

One way to figure out what your next step is is to call the suicide hotline with your child if possible 1-800-273-8255. Or a local crisis line (your state mental health agency usually has one.) Be patient with this process. It’s not perfect.

For national hotlines, they often want to connect you to an operator in your state. If you get push back from your child, you remind him they wrote the letter to get help and this is the next step. Never promise to keep this a secret from mental health professionals. and let your child know you are with them as a partner for support and you’ll figure it out together.

Then get help for you, too. NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, has support groups for families.

5. Follow up with an appointment for your child

In some cases, they might need a psych hospital or the ER if those feelings are eminent. That’s where the hotline comes in. They can help you assess the situation and figure out your next step.

It can be awkward for your child after they make this very personal confession. Parents get paranoid and want to know every minute how their child is feeling. I understand this fear. But you have to pull back some. They feel invaded and uncomfortable after their confession and are typically not that anxious to discuss it.

It’s probably a good idea to get some mental health training. SafeTalk Training or Mental Health First Aid. Suicidal thoughts are usually the result of a mental illness and typically don’t just get cured.

This is not a fix-all guide but just outlines how you can respond to a message or letter sent to you by your child.

Get this AFSP flyer “Talk saves lives” How to talk to someone who may be struggling with depression or anxiety. The resource page below has some guides on how to talk to someone who is suicidal.

Other Helpful Articles:

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

3 thoughts on “Your child has just written you a message he’s suicidal”

  1. I love all your posts, Anne Moss, but these with concrete steps and guidance are just so powerful and important. Such a scary time for the person struggling with depression and for the family. I pray this post will be a help and encouragement to those who need it. ❤

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