Few phrases are as terrifying to a parent’s ears as “I want to kill myself” or “I just want to be dead.” Being a parent involves a long series of fears, but few strike at our hearts with the terror that our children may feel such despair they would choose suicide.

Sometimes, kids lob those phrases at us in an effort to cause hurt. They don’t have any intention of harming themselves, but they don’t know better ways to express their level of frustration, anger, or sadness. But for other kids, statements such as those are really a cry for help from someone who lacks the courage or confidence to ask directly. That’s why it’s important to take their comments seriously, instead of brushing them aside as drama or just another bad behavior.

There are several organizations working to prevent suicide and unhealthy behavior among young people. Two we’ve found particularly effective are Sources of Strength and Circle4Hope. Sources of Strength is a youth suicide prevention project that uses power of peer social networks to promote connections with caring adults and encourage troubled youths to seek help.

The second group began in 1999 when a Utah educator named Greg Hudnall made it his mission to address the growing number of suicides in his school district. Dr. Hudnall and his team learned that most young people who die by suicide gave a warning sign or told a friend, but the majority of those friends never shared that information with an adult. In 2004, the team started an approach called a Hope Squad to train students to identify struggling peers and refer them to adults. Since then, the success of Hope Squads has led to similar efforts for youth detention centers, businesses, and veterans and active members of the military.

If your child or a young person you know has mentioned suicide or a desire to die, don’t assume they’re just being dramatic. That’s one of the most common warning signs that suggest a person may be thinking about death by suicide. Others include:

  • becoming withdrawn and isolated from friends, families, and activities they enjoy
  • saying they have no reason for living or sense of purpose
  • frequent mood swings and expressing rage or anger
  • unusual sleep patterns, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • sudden increases in risky behaviors, including alcohol or drug use.

Talking with a young person who appears to be thinking about suicide may be the first step in protecting them. Care to Change offers training in QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer), an extremely effective approach to determining whether someone is considering suicide and encouraging them to seek help. We can come to your workplace, your church, your organization, or wherever to help others better understand the warning signs and know the simple steps anyone can take to keep people from making the wrong decision. Contact us today so we can work together to save lives.

(And if you’ve been thinking about suicide, know that help is available. Your life is important. Tomorrow needs you. Please find someone who you can talk to. You can text 741741 right now to connect with someone who cares and will listen, or you can call us and sit down with one of our professionals. Please don’t delay, because the sooner you find help, the faster you’ll find your way out of the darkness.)

Brittany Gipson is Clinical Manager of Care to Change, and helps children, adolescents, and adults cope with and overcome mental health and addiction-related issues.