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Talking With Teens about Suicide

You matter

At Children’s Mercy, we care about the whole person, mind and body. You may be coming to us for a medical condition or injury and wonder, why do we ask about suicidal thoughts? We ask because we care.

I have had friends that died of suicide, and nobody asked them how they were doing. It’s important to ask.

Children’s Mercy Patient

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10 to 24-year-olds, and Kansas and Missouri have higher rates of suicide than the national average. We want to help change this. More than twice as many young people die from suicide than cancer and heart disease combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

At Children’s Mercy, we provide many ways to keep kids safe, including immunizations, sports physicals and car seat checks. We now ask our teens about suicidal thoughts, which is another way to help keep our kids safe.

Suicide prevention is a team effort

Suicide prevention is a community effort. Children’s Mercy staff, patients, families, friends and the community can all make a difference. Speak up when you have concerns about someone who is struggling. Make sure to keep alcohol, medications, firearms and sharp objects secured so they are not quickly accessible. If you know someone who is actively thinking of suicide, never leave that person alone, and get medical help immediately. Many people in our world have struggled with suicidal thoughts, and yet they have gone on to live meaningful lives.

This is what we want for all patients at Children’s Mercy. Thank you for helping us to make it happen.

Tips for teens

  • Speak up and get help. Even though it may be really difficult, if you’re not doing well, reach out to friends, family, Children’s Mercy staff or the suicide hotline. Someone needs to know what you’re thinking and feeling.

  • Help others. If you notice that someone is struggling, do not leave them alone.

  • Remove firearms, alcohol and drugs and seek immediate medical help.

  • Be an advocate. Stand up against bullying and social issues. No one deserves to be told that they are not enough, or to be ashamed of who they are.

  • Know you’re not alone. There is always someone who cares.

For patients at Children's Mercy

Suicide screening is safe

The research tells us that asking about thoughts of suicide does not cause harm. It leads to hope for those at risk. It is important to remember more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a treatable condition, like depression. There are effective treatments available for these conditions. In fact, most people with depression who receive treatment go on to recover. Most teens who are suicidal tell us they just want to end the suffering. We can show them options when we know they are struggling.

If screening at Children’s Mercy can save one’s worth it.

Children’s Mercy Parent

How we help by screening

In many departments at Children’s Mercy, we use the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ). The ASQ was developed at the National Institute for Mental Health. This is a brief screening to identify those at risk for suicide. It asks about thoughts of death, feeling like a burden and planning and history of suicide attempts. We interview teens without a parent or guardian present because we know they often are willing to be more open when on their own.

If concerns emerge during the screening, a trained social worker will interview both the child and parent or guardian using a more thorough assessment and will help make recommendations. When families bring a child for treatment of a known mental health condition, they may be seen by specialists adept at addressing suicide risk (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist). In these instances, our assessment process is slightly different to better meet the needs of your child.

We never keep secrets when it comes to safety and always notify the parent or guardian of concerns. We help link young people with mental health resources, depending on their level of need. We also follow up after a visit to ensure needs are met. If you have concerns about your child’s safety today, please ask to speak to a social worker.

Contact us

If you are struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings, we can help you. Children’s Mercy social workers are available to connect you with services in your area. Need to talk with someone right away? You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is free and confidential.