Talking to kids about suicide

SOS Safety Magazine had a chance to speak with Crystal Walker, Communications Coordinator at the Centre for Suicide Prevention, about suicide in Canada, how families and teens can start an effective dialogue around the subject, and what their organization is doing to provide resources, support, and leadership to those who need it most.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about the Centre for Suicide Prevention?

The Centre for Suicide Prevention is a centre of excellence based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. We are educators. For over 35 years, we’ve been equipping Canadians with the information, knowledge and skills necessary to respond to people at risk of suicide.

We educate online, in print, and interactively. Our library of over 45,000 suicide-specific items, which is the largest English-language collection of its kind, informs the work we do.

What are some of the ways your organization helps people?

Education is a best-practice in suicide prevention: anyone can be the person who helps someone at risk of suicide. Each year we train thousands of people from hundreds of different organizations to be able to recognize someone at risk and connect them to the help they need.

Typically, what is the age range of people you are helping?

Our online resources are accessible to anyone with a computer, and we do have resources specifically for youth, on our website. Our workshops are for anyone over the age of 18.

What kind of resources do you provide to people in need?

Our resources range from infographics providing general information about a topic to editorial articles that delve into the research to present an informed, thoughtful discussion. Our workshops equip people with the skills and knowledge to help someone at risk of suicide.

Do you have any advice for parents to talk to their teens about mental health and suicide prevention?

When speaking about suicide generally, it’s important to note that: Suicide is complex because people are complex. There is never any one reason that a person will die by suicide, instead, there are several factors involved, often including mental illness and external life stressors.

It’s also important to recognize that people who are suicidal don’t actually want to die, they want the pain of living to stop, and that’s not the same thing. People who consider and die by suicide are in such deep, psychological pain that they can see no other way out of that pain than death. However, when given the option of help, people will take it.

More often than not, people do show some sign to others that they are struggling. It’s important to know the warning signs of suicide and to be there for our friends and family members so we can recognize when a significant change, which is a major warning sign for suicide, has occurred. That way, we can reach out to them, ask if they’re okay, if they’re thinking of suicide, and if they say yes, we can connect them to mental health supports.

Suicide is also not anyone’s fault. No one can be blamed for the suicide of a friend or a loved one, including the person who died, themselves. Again, suicide is complex and there is a whole host of factors that play a role in someone’s decision to die, not the least of which is their deep psychological pain.

Here’s some info from our Youth at Risk page for adults (  – this is specifically about how to talk to a teen you think is suicidal.

How to talk to a suicidal teen

Communicating with a teen who may be thinking of suicide is difficult, but it could save their life.


  • Assure them that help is available and that you’re there for them.
  • Stay calm, be compassionate and non-judgmental.
  • Listen and let them express themselves.
  • Gently ask questions until you have a clear understanding of what they’re feeling.
  • Be patient if things are not immediately apparent or reasonable to you.
  • Start the conversation with “I “statements: “I heard you say you don’t want to be here or that everyone would be better off without you. I am really concerned and want to talk more about this with you.”
  • Use open-ended and direct questions to get them talking. When necessary, encourage them to elaborate or clarify. “Tell me more…” “I am not sure what you mean…”
  • Remember their perspective and validate their feelings. “It must’ve been hard for you when your friends didn’t invite you to come out with them. It hurts to feel left out.”
  • Identify the positives, and remind them that they have reasons to live. “You’ve talked a lot about your friend, it sounds like they’re really important to you and you have a good time together.”
  • Pay attention to their body language; even if they say they are fine, they may show their true thoughts and feelings through their gestures and facial expressions.
  • Trust your instincts.


  • React with anger, shock or frustration at what you may hear.
  • Jump in to try to fix their problems.

How to ask if they’re suicidal

  • First, it’s important to accept the possibility the teen may be at risk of suicide.
  • Then, make them feel comfortable; it helps to let them know feelings of suicide are nothing to be ashamed of. “Sometimes when people are going through a really hard time they think about suicide.”
  • In a straightforward manner, ask them if they’re thinking of suicide. “Are you thinking about suicide?” “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • If they say yes, ask them if they have a suicide plan. “Do you have a plan of how you would do it?”
  • If they say yes, ask them if they have the means to do it (access to the way they plan to kill themselves). “Do you have access to the pills you’re thinking about using?”
  • If the teen answers yes to the last two questions:
    • Get them help immediately.
    • Do not leave them alone.
    • Take them to the emergency room or call a crisis line (1-833-456-4566) for advice.

Is there a certain age range that is more affected in Canada than others?

Yes. Middle-aged men die by suicide most often.

In Canada, in 2015, there were 4405 suicides. 3269 of these suicides were male (Statistics Canada, 2018). Men aged 40-60 have the highest number of suicides. Women attempt suicide more often than men BUT men die by suicide three times more often than women (Statistics Canada, 2014).

As for youth, suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24-year-olds (2011). Teens are admitted to hospital for suicide attempts more than any other age group; some accounts suggest as many as 1/4 of all suicide attempt admissions are for teens. However, the number of suicides for both boys and girls in Canada has been relatively consistent in the last 10 years and suicide remains the 2nd leading cause of death for young people in Canada.

Do you have some interesting stats for our readers?

Besides the stats we’ve already shared, we would like readers to know that all suicidal thoughts or threats must be taken seriously. If you are concerned about someone, tell an adult about it or call the crisis line at 1-833-456-4566.

If your friend is thinking about suicide, do not keep a secret. You need to tell an adult who can help.

You can make a difference in the lives of your friends and family. Really being there for people and letting them know you care is as simple as asking questions about how they’re doing and being a good listener.

What’s some advice you would give to someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts?

Help is always available. If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide or with your mental health in general, reach out to a friend, a family member, or an adult that you trust. You can always call the national crisis line at 1-833-456-4566, text at 45645 or chat at

Being unwell, whether physically or mentally, is not a sign of weakness or failure. Looking and asking for help is a sign of strength. As difficult as it is, the first step to finding solutions other than suicide is to ask for help.