Suicide is something that stirs emotions in all of us. For parents, it can be a real source of worry and anxiety.

Youth Mental Health SuicideAnyone who has lost someone close to suicide knows those awful moments of questioning “why?” without ever finding a simple answer.

Concern for your son or daughter

Parents whose son or daughter seems to be happy and doing well may still feel great anxiety about suicide.

While there has been more talk about suicide, and more support services developing all the time, there’s still much we don’t know about why someone would take their own life.

Warning signs

Every death by suicide is complicated. There is rarely, if ever, one specific cause or reason.

Suicide usually occurs when a range of psychological, social, environmental and even biological factors come together. Each person’s unique life circumstances.

While we may never fully understand the causes of suicide there are things we can watch out for.

Some of the recognised warning signs include:

  • Self-harming behaviour
  • Talking about suicide or death
  • Becoming isolated
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Sudden changes in mood or behaviour
  • Researching suicide methods on the internet
  • Making of “final” arrangements, e.g. giving personal things away, posting goodbye messages on social networking sites or sending final texts to friends.

Risk factors

There are also a number of risk factors we all should be aware of:

  • Mental health disorder (depression, anxiety)
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Alcohol and other substance abuse
  • Feeling of hopefulness, helplessness, guilt, loneliness, low self-esteem
  • Loss of interest in friends, hobbies or activities previously enjoyed
  • Bullying or being a bully at school or in social settings
  • Family stress/dysfunction
  • Sexual orientation and identify confusion (lack of support or bullying during the coming out process)
  • Situational crisis (i.e. traumatic death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, family violence etc.)
  • Easy access to means of self-harm
  • Death of a close family member/friend by suicide.

Some of these warning signs and risk factors on their own may not be a cause of concern.

However, the more warning signs there are, the greater the cause for concern.

Protective factors

Certain factors can lessen the potential risk that lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

These include:

If you’re worried about someone, act on it, don’t ignore it. This isn’t always easy to do, but there a few things you can do to help.

Show you care

If you’re worried about someone, you’re worried for a reason. Act on it, don’t ignore your instincts.

The first step in reaching out to someone you are worried about is to show that you have noticed something is up and show you care.

Some phrases or questions you can try to use:

  • “Is everything OK? I’m here if you want to talk”
  • “You seem a bit down, whatever it is I can help you to get through it”
  • “I’m worried about you and I want to help”.

Ask the question

While it’s not an easy thing to do, it’s perfectly OK to ask someone if they are thinking about harming themselves, or taking their own life.

Asking about suicide will not put the idea in someone’s head.

Many of us have thoughts of suicide at one time or another. If you’re going to ask someone about thoughts of suicide try a question like, “Do you feel like ending it all?”

Get help

With mental health problems, self-harm and suicide we all need to know our limitations when it comes to providing help. In a difficult situation it may be important to call for outside help from a support service.

If your son or daughter is in this level of distress, call a support service for them, and offer to go to that service with them.

For reassurance, you could use a phrase like “I will stay with you until we can get you some help”. The most important thing when someone is in crisis is to keep them safe.

Talk to someone

This may mean telling someone about your son/daughter/friend’s suicidal feelings, such as their GP or doctor in A & E. Even if they ask you not to. Support services that you can contact include Pieta House, your local GP.

In a crisis you can always contact emergency services by calling 999 or 112 or bring your son/daughter to their local Accident and Emergency Department.

Bereavement support

Sadly, we will continue to lose people to suicide. When someone has taken their own life it can take a heavy toll on those left behind. It can be a very different kind of grief.

We may know about some of the warning signs and risk factors as mentioned here, but it’s never easy to predict suicidal behaviour.

Where to seek help

While, as a society, we’re getting better at having conversations about suicide and are more mature in our response, bereaved families and friends can still find themselves in a very difficult place, not knowing where to turn or who to talk to.

Many people who have lost someone to suicide find strength and comfort within their own family and social networks.

For others, it can be helpful to talk to someone from a support service like Samaritans.

In your own time

No one can say how long the grief following suicide will last. Often people will decide to get some extra support, months or even years after someone close has died. The important thing is to support your or son or daughter in reaching out for help when they’re ready, and on their own terms.


Some of this information was adapted from the leaflet ‘Concerned about suicide’ printed by the HSE and the DHSS PSNI in Northern Ireland

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