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How to Talk to Kids of Different Ages About Mental Health and Suicide

Mental health and suicide are important topics to discuss with our children.

In recent years, the state of Utah has been grappling with some alarming statistics concerning its youth. According to the Utah Sharp survey, a staggering 53% of teenage girls reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Additionally, 18% of Utah’s youth seriously considered suicide in the previous year, equating to one in six young individuals. Only 37% of these young minds manage to get enough sleep on an average school night.

These harrowing statistics have prompted a critical conversation about mental health and suicide prevention. Studio 5 Parenting Contributor Heather Johnson provides an age-by-age guide for talking to children about suicide. Her objective is to empower parents and families to engage in these discussions instead of feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed by the topic.

To contact Heather for counseling, email, or visit


How to Discuss Mental Health and Suicide With Children

One crucial aspect Heather emphasizes is framing these conversations as discussions about mental health. While suicide itself is not classified as a mental illness, mental health struggles can lead to suicidal thoughts. By fostering open and ongoing mental health dialogues with our children, we can help destigmatize these discussions.

One common concern among parents is when to broach the subject of suicide with their children. Heather advises that it’s essential to have these conversations not just when children are feeling low, but also when they’re on an upswing. Creating a safe environment for these discussions is paramount, as it dispels myths and helps children feel more comfortable seeking help.

Breaking the discussion down by age, Heather provides guidance for approaching this delicate topic with kids of different developmental stages:

  1. Preschool to Elementary: Keep it simple and brief. Explain that someone’s brain had a disease, much like you would explain other illnesses, such as cancer.
  2. Elementary School: Continue to keep it simple but start introducing emotions and feelings. You can explain that it’s a disease that makes people sad, gently introducing terms like “depression.”
  3. Middle School: Begin discussing warning signs and symptoms of mental health struggles. Ask if they or their friends have experienced any of these feelings.
  4. High School: Expand the conversation by teaching them what to do if they or someone they know is struggling. Ensure they know where to seek help.

The key takeaway is that it’s never too early or too late to initiate these conversations about mental health and suicide. By normalizing these discussions and equipping our children with knowledge, we can create a safer and more compassionate future for them.

Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. It’s never too late to seek help and support.

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