Visalia Unified School District is committed to the health and well-being of all students. We acknowledge that students learn best when their social and emotional health is tended to. With this in mind, we encourage parents to partner with us in promoting student well-being and supporting suicide prevention.
Talking to your children about their social and emotional well-being, including thoughts and/or behaviors related to suicide is something you can and should do. Contrary to myth, talking about suicide CANNOT plant the idea in someone’s head. It actually can open up communication about a topic that is often kept quiet. By talking to your children about suicide or other at-risk thoughts or behavior, you give your child permission to bring up the subject again in the future.
If not prompted by a concern about your child’s behavior, approach this topic in the same way as other subjects that are important to you, but may or may not be important to your child:
- Timing is everything! Pick a time when you have the best chance of getting your child’s attention. Sometimes a car ride, for example, assures you of a captive, attentive audience. Or a suicide that has received media attention can provide the perfect opportunity to bring up the topic.
- Think about what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse a script if necessary. It always helps to have a reference point: (”I was reading in the paper that youth suicide has been increasing…” or “I saw that your school is having a program for teachers on suicide prevention.”)
- Be honest. If this is a hard subject for you to talk about, admit it! (”You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important”). By acknowledging your discomfort, you give your child permission to acknowledge his/her discomfort too.
- Ask for your child’s response. Be direct! (”What do you think about suicide?”; “Is it something that any of your friends talk about?”, “Have you ever thought about it? What about your friends?”)
- Listen to what your child has to say. You’ve asked the questions, so simply consider your child’s answers. If you hear something that worries you, be honest about that too. “What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, okay?”
- Don’t overreact or underreact. Overreaction will close off any future communication on the subject. Underreacting, especially in relation to suicide, is often just a way to make ourselves feel better. ANY thoughts or talk of suicide (”I felt that way a while ago but don’t any more”) should ALWAYS be revisited. Remember that suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in any other way. Ask about the problem that created the suicidal thoughts. This can make it easier to bring up again in the future (”I wanted to ask you again about the situation you were telling me about…”)
If your child gives signs or directly shares that they may be considering suicide, the following actions should be taken:
- Remain calm.
- Ask directly if he or she is thinking about suicide (e.g., "Are you thinking of suicide?").
- Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
- Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
- Do not judge.
- Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the child or youth alone.
- Remove means for self-harm.
- Get help: No one should ever agree to keep a child’s suicidal thoughts a secret or feel that they need to handle things alone. Instead, parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible.
Possible suicide warning signs can be organized around the word “FACTS”:
FEELINGS that, again, seem different from the past, like hopelessness; fear of losing control; helplessness; worthlessness; feeling anxious, worried or angry often.
ACTIONS that are different from the way your child acted in the past, especially things like talking about death or suicide, taking dangerous risks, withdrawing from activities or sports or using alcohol or drugs.
CHANGES in personality, behavior, sleeping patterns, eating habits; loss of interest in friends or activities or sudden improvement after a period of being down or withdrawn.
THREATS that convey a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, or preoccupation with death (”Life doesn’t seem worth it sometimes”; “I wish I were dead”; “Heaven’s got to be better than this”); plans like giving away favorite things, studying ways to die, obtaining a weapon or stash of pills; suicide attempts like overdosing or cutting.
SITUATIONS that can serve as “trigger points” for suicidal behaviors. These include things like loss or death; humiliations, rejections, or failures, getting in trouble at home, in school or with the law; a break-up; or impending changes for which your child feels scared or unprepared.
Just like possible warning signs indicate the risk of suicide, the presence of resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors to lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. If you have concerns about your children’s social and emotional well-being or you’ve learned that your child may be at risk of suicide, communicate with your child’s school and work with staff, friends, and family to build these factors in and around your children:
- Family support and cohesion, including good communication.
- Peer support and close social networks.
- School and community connectedness.
- Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
- Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict-resolution.
- General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, sense of purpose.
- Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.
Local Community Resources
(559) 624-7471 Tulare-Kings Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force (www.sptf.org)
(559) 627-1490 Visalia Youth Services
(559) 635-4292 Synchrony of Visalia
(559) 784-0192 Central California Family Crisis Center
(559) 624-6027 Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-TALK (8255) or text “go” to 741741 (24/7)
Local Call Lines
(559) 627-1490 Visalia Youth Crisis Line (8:00am-5:00pm)
(559) 730-9922 Visalia Crisis Line (after hours and weekends)
1-877-306-2413 Tulare County Warmline (24/7)
1-866-488-7386 Trevor Helpline/LG+
* If you need immediate crisis support, call 911
Adapted from: National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), www.nasponline.org and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), www.sprc.org