Suicide Prevention: How to Become an Advocate for Mental Health and Help Prevent Suicide

7 min to read
A father in conversation with his teenage son on a park bench.

Suicide is such a sensitive topic—especially when talking about it with those we love—that sometimes it’s avoided altogether. Having a conversation about mental health or suicide can bring up difficult emotions and requires a lot of courage. But for many, it can mean the difference between life and death.

As a parent, caretaker and/or Learning Coach, stepping into the role of mental health advocate and discussing suicide and mental health openly and honestly while providing a judgment-free zone can create new possibilities for your family, your children’s well-being, and the relationships you’re building together. 

What Is a Mental Health Advocate?

Becoming a mental health advocate doesn’t require a formal process, and you don’t need any special qualifications. It simply means that you show up in the world and take actions to promote mental health. This can look like:

  • Sharing your own story and struggles with your children, family, and friends. 
  • Educating yourself on the topic of mental health and educating others to reduce the mental health stigma. 
  • Participating in mental health fundraising, volunteering for related events, and recruiting others to participate. 
  • Becoming involved in policies that directly impact mental health and well-being. 
  • Initiate conversations with others about mental health and suicide.

As a mental health advocate, you can contribute to a growing awareness of mental health and help reduce stigmas surrounding it. By sharing your own experiences and taking action, you can become part of the solution and help bring sensitive topics out of the dark and into the light. 

While there are many ways to become involved as an advocate, it’s crucial to know that human connection is at the heart of mental health—and real change starts in the home. 

A parent being a mental health advocate.

Mental Health at Home

While statistics on the subject can be grim, it’s important for parents and caregivers to be aware that, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 11 and 15% of all total suicides from 2011 to 2020 were under the age of 26, which includes ages 15 and under. 

One way to improve these statistics and become a mental health advocate is to strengthen mental health conversations at home. Here are some tips that can help you stay calm during the toughest conversations and create a judgment-free zone where mental health issues can be faced together.

Become aware of warning signs.

One of the most important factors in preventing self-harm and suicide is to recognize the warning signs. Here’s a short list of some common warning signs that your child’s mental health may be suffering:

  • Avoiding social engagements they once enjoyed. 
  • A recent increase in drug or alcohol use. 
  • Mood swings that may include anger, sadness, or withdrawal.
  • A recent lack of motivation or energy. 
  • Having thoughts of suicide, hopelessness, or like there’s no point to life.

While these common warning signs can be an indicator, it’s also vital to recognize warning signs that are unique to the individual. Ask your child, “How do you know when you’re struggling? What thoughts, sensations, or behaviors do you notice?” For example, they might reveal that when they’re struggling, they tend to feel tightness in their chest, isolate themselves in their room more often, and have negative thoughts about themselves or others. The more aware students are of their own warning signs, the more equipped they will be to reach out for help when they notice them. 

And, even if there are no specific warning signs, it’s still important to start the conversation

Opening the conversation.

Many tweens and teens have treasures and keepsaOpening up a mental health conversation might reveal more than you were emotionally ready for, but keep in mind that bringing tough topics into the open can ultimately transform solitary suffering into a sense of relief and hope. Each day, ask your child how they’re feeling. Do they occasionally feel sad, or do they feel sad every day? Are they stressed? Do they often feel worried or fearful? How do they feel about their family life? Are they satisfied with their friendships? 

Avoid judgment. Even if your heart is pounding and you feel devastated by what they reveal, don’t react to what they tell you. Just being present and listening shows genuine concern and can make a huge difference for your child. Let them know you love them, that you’re there for them, and that you care about their happiness. kes that are important to them. It’s a red flag when they start giving those things away. They may do this because they know they will no longer need them or they want those things remembered and protected after they are gone.  

Don’t be afraid to ask the question: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

If your child reveals they are feeling depressed, engaging in self-harm, or have been exhibiting warning signs, ask them directly if they have been thinking about taking their life. It’s a difficult question to ask but doing so can provide an invitation for them to finally talk about it if they were too afraid to bring it up on their own. Rest assured that when asking this question, you can’t “implant” ideas into your child’s mind. If their answer is yes, their answer is yes. If their answer is no, simply asking the question will not later turn their answer into a yes.

Naturally every parent or caregiver hopes that the answer to this question will be an honest no, but if they do answer yes, try to maintain composure. In that moment, let them know how much they mean to you, and again, avoid reacting or responding with judgment. Presence and empathy are key. 

Identify stressors and solutions.

Ask your child directly if there is anything in their life that is contributing to their stress or unhappiness. Perhaps they’re feeling a lot of pressure, experiencing online bullying, or feeling disconnected from family and friends.

Once these issues are identified, brainstorm together ways to improve the circumstances. This may look like taking a break from football or dance practice, going to counseling, blocking online bullies, and spending more time together as a family to do activities they enjoy. The important thing during this step is to let them take the lead instead of telling them what they should or shouldn’t do to improve their circumstances, or how they should or shouldn’t feel about those circumstances. 

A family supporting mental health.

Develop a plan for worst-case scenarios.

Talk to your child about what they can do to notice their own warning signs and how to know when to reach out for help. Suggest they keep a daily journal to keep track of how they’re feeling and ask them who they would be willing to reach out to when they notice signs that they’re struggling. Along with personal contacts, keep the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number—988—in a visible place.

The hotline can be used by anyone who is suicidal. The lifeline also provides guidance and resources to those who have a struggling loved one. Post the 988 number on your refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, and anywhere that’s visible to your family.

In addition to having a safety plan, make sure your home is a safe place. Keep prescription medications and alcohol in a locked cabinet accessible only to you, ensure weapons (especially firearms) are locked away, unloaded, and inaccessible. Remove all means and methods of self-harm. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Seek support and self-care.

Knowing your child is struggling is a difficult position to be in. Some may be surprised to learn that advocating for yourself is one of the best ways to advocate for mental health. Offer yourself the same presence and support that you provide for your children. Confide in close friends, seek professional guidance or counseling, and carve some time out each week to do things that help you restore and care for yourself. Caring for yourself not only sets a positive example, but also helps you recharge so you can fully be there for others when they need you. 

E-guide for Connections Academy with a green background and a graphic of a laptop with the purple eGuide.

Ready to Learn More

About Connections Academy?

Explore the benefits of attending Connections Academy, a tuition-free, accredited online public school that’s passionate about helping your child thrive.  

Get Your Free eGuide


Related Posts