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Suicide Prevention in Children and Adolescents

Resources for parents and caregivers

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24.

Missouri and Kansas have even higher rates of suicide than the national average. The good news is – suicide is preventable. Prevention starts with identifying kids who are at risk.

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • Family history of completed suicide
  • Mood disorders like depression
  • People who self-harm
  • Substance use

Watch for warning signs

It’s important to be on the lookout for warning signs, especially in adolescents, who can struggle with physical and emotional changes. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the following behaviors should raise concern:

  • Often talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide.
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless.
  • Expressions of having no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life.
    • Saying things like "It would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out."
  • Increased alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community.
  • Reckless behavior or more risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
  • Dramatic mood changes.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others.

If you notice any of these behaviors:

  • Talk with your child.
  • Seek help (see Resources at the bottom of this page).
  • Restrict access to methods that are commonly used for self-harm or suicide.

If your child is already seeing a mental health professional:

  • Keep appointments.
  • Communicate your concerns.

It’s OK to talk about it

It is important to be aware that talking to your child about suicide does not start suicidal thinking or increase the chance of suicidal behavior. Talking about suicide can:

  • Open communication.
  • Let your child know it is OK to share their thoughts and ask questions about suicide – both in that moment and in the future.

There are many ways to talk to your child in an effective way about their mental health and suicide. Consider these tips:

  • If your child brings up the topic of suicide, don’t shy away from it.
    • Ask open-ended questions about their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.
    • Try to respond in a non-judgmental way to foster open communication.
    • Stay calm. A strong emotional reaction can end a conversation quickly.
    • Ask questions and repeat back what is said. Feeling heard can help build trust and promote deeper understanding.
  • Answer questions if you can.
    • If you don’t know an answer, it’s OK to say, “I need to think about that.”
  • Acknowledge that talking about suicide is difficult.
    • Praise your child for talking about a hard topic. This can make it easier to return to the conversation in the future.

If you and your child need help with this conversation, you can reach out to a mental health professional for assistance or see the resources at the bottom of this page.

How to get help for your child

Take action for your child in a crisis:

  • Call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room if your child is making suicidal threats or actions.

Take action for your child who is feeling suicidal but is not in a crisis right now:

  • Call or text 988. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English and Spanish and is free and confidential.
    • TTY: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255.
  • Talk to your child's pediatrician, counselor or therapist about your concerns.

The Trevor Project: Providing confidential support for LGBTQIA+ youth in crisis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • Call: 1-866-488-7386
  • Text: Text START to 678-678
  • TrevorChat: Confidential, online instant messaging with a Trevor counselor, available 24/7. Access through a computer.

Trans Lifeline: A 24/7 hotline available in the U.S. and Canada staffed by transgender people for transgender people.

Additional resources are available at the bottom of this page.

“Our daughter was an avid shooter and hunter. She had access to guns all the time. She had her own firearms to hunt with and to go to the range. My fault as a parent was I never once thought she would use them to end her life. Knowing what I know now, I would have kept them locked up in a safe where she could only access them with my permission.”

Father of a child lost to suicide

Increase safety at home

Suicidal thoughts and actions are often impulsive. Having access to firearms, medications or other potentially lethal objects is a risk factor for suicide. Removing or blocking access to ways a child or teen might attempt suicide prevents them from immediately acting on an impulsive thought. Delaying an impulsive act reduces the chances of a suicide attempt.


Firearms account for about half of the suicide deaths in our area.

  • We advise storing firearms outside the home, if possible.
  • For firearms stored in the home, the safest approach is making sure firearms are:
    • Stored locked up
    • Unloaded
    • Ammunition locked up separately
  • Free gun locks are available to families at all Security/Check-in desks at the Children’s Mercy Adele Hall Campus and Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas.
    • Ask a security officer for a gun lock.
    • One will be given to you – no questions asked.
  • Share this information with all adults in your home. Talking about and planning firearm storage can be hard at times, but it can lead to lives saved.
  • We are not against firearms. We are against our patients having access to firearms when they feel desperate.


Any kind of medicine can cause harm if used in the wrong way or by the wrong person. This includes medicines you can buy with or without a prescription. Some of the most dangerous overdoses we see include:

  • Prescription medicines
  • Allergy medicines
  • Pain relievers
  • Other medicines found in the home.

We recommend keeping only a small amount of medicine unlocked in a pill organizer (if being used). Lock up the rest in a safe and secure place such as a locked cabinet, drawer or box.

Dispose of any leftover prescription medicines to reduce the risk of accidental exposure or misuse.

  • A medicine drop box is available from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., 7 days a week in the Outpatient Pharmacy at Children's Mercy Adele Hall campus.
  • Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas has a medication drop box near the pharmacy in the lobby. It is available 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • Many local pharmacies also have a medicine disposal program. Search online or ask your pharmacy for the nearest location.

Many medications are dangerous when combined with alcohol. We encourage you to limit access to alcohol in your home.

Share information about keeping medicines safe with all adults in your home.

Other objects

  • Limit access to sharp objects like knives and razor blades for those who self-injure.
  • Death by hanging has become more common among youth. It is important to limit access to ropes and cords.


Have a strong safety plan and make sure to supervise young people at risk of suicide.

  • Some parents do a “room sweep” to check for items that could be used in suicide.
  • If you see something odd or that doesn’t make sense, do not hesitate to ask about it.

Protective factors

There are also ways you can help your child be proactive in preventing suicide. These include:

  • Strong connections with family, friends and community.
  • Contact with health care providers.
  • Access to mental health providers.
  • Good problem-solving skills.

Children’s Mercy can help


As part of our vision to create a world of wellbeing for all children, Children’s Mercy extends our suicide prevention efforts to reach as many children and families as possible. Here are a few of the ways we are working toward this goal:

  • Screening questions at our hospitals and clinics to help connect families with mental health resources when needed.
  • Emergency care for children in crisis at our Adele Hall and Kansas Emergency Rooms.
  • Partnerships with local health care providers, schools and community organizations.
  • Individualized safety plans for families before they are discharged from the hospital or Emergency Room.

Helping Your Child During a Mental Health Crisis

The Children's Mercy Acute Mental Health Screening team made this guide to help parents and caregivers know what to do when a child or teen is having a mental health crisis. You can get step-by-step guidance for different circumstances and find out what to expect if you come to the Emergency Room with a child in crisis.


Web resources

What parents should know about teens/tweens and suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

Talking to Your Kid About Suicide (Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide)

How to Communicate With and Listen to Your Teen (

Suicide Prevention (Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition)

We can all prevent suicide (Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988)

National Center for the Prevention of Youth Suicide

Parent information from the Jason Foundation

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Lifelines and textlines

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7: 988

Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio 24/7: 988

Suicide Prevention Crisis Textline 24/7: Text HOME to 741741

The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth 24/7: (866) 488-7386

Trevor Textline 24/7: Text START to 678678

Trans Lifeline 24/7: (877) 565-8860

National Parent Helpline: (855) 4 A PARENT ((855) 427-2736)

NAMI Missouri WARMline: (800) 374-2138
WARMline is a free peer-to-peer support service, offering words of encouragement and compassion to those with mental health concerns and is available:

  • Weekdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Weekends & Holidays 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

Cómo pueden los padres OBSERVAR ESCUCHAR AYUDAR (How Parents Can LOOK LISTEN AND HELP) - Oregon Youth Suicide Prevention Program

  • This Spanish-language webpage talks about your role as a parent in recognizing changes in your child’s behavior that may indicate he or she is at risk of depression or suicide.
  • It also outlines how you can intervene to prevent a crisis and obtain help.
  • This information can be downloaded as a brochure. An English-language version can be ordered by e-mail.