A Suicidal Teen: What do you do? (and not do)

Let me tell you about one of my big regrets in youth ministry.

One of my small group leaders came up to me and told me a student kept bring up suicide.  I brushed this leader off and said it is not a big deal unless the student talks about going through with it.

For the next handful of weeks, this leader would come to me with concerns.  I kept not taking them seriously enough.  Finally, after weeks, we brought the parents in on the conversation.

It was clear that the parents were not impressed that they were not told about their student and suicide concerns immediately.

Suicide is a very real issue that you will have to deal with.  Let me give you some advice on what to do and not to do.

What To Do With A Suicidal Student

A student comes to you and says they struggle with suicidal thoughts, what do you do?

  • Stay Calm

Now is NOT the time to freak out.  Take a breath, say a prayer and look at the student in the eyes.

  • Direct Questions

Do not beat around the bush.  Ask them directly if they are thinking about committing suicide,

  • It’s Never a Joke

Take the student very seriously.  Also, assure them that you will support them.

  • Get Help

Involve parents, suicide prevention organizations where you live.  Suicide is bigger than just you.

  • Follow Up

Meet with the student and the parents regularly.  Offer to be a support and a help in resourcing the family.

What NOT To Say To A Suicidal Student

  • Don’t Worry I Won’t Tell Anyone

This is dangerous because you MUST tell other people.  You are making a promise that you will break.  Most likely in breaking the promise you will lose the students confidence.

  • Suicide Is A Sin

Even if you believe this is a true statement this is not the time to say it.  Right now the student does not need a theological discussion.  What they need is to know that you care.

In youth ministry there is a very good chance that you will have to deal with suicide at some level.  I hope this gives you some tools in deal with the situation when it arrives.

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Tyson Howells

Tyson is the associate youth ministry director for Vanguard Youth Ministry Institute. He has been a youth pastor for many years in Winnipeg as well as in Edmonton. Tyson is passionate in seeing relational youth ministry that results in youth that are passionate about following Jesus. He still leads a small group at the youth group in his home church.


  1. Michelle Hardersays:

    Thanks so much for approaching this issue.

  2. Michelle Hardersays:

    I would love more info about what supporting and walking through this looks like…

    • Tyson Howellssays:

      Marv Penner in his book “Help, my kids are hurting” uses an acronym with the word LOVE.

      L is for listen. We need to talk less
      O is for offer. Offer hope, support, encouragement
      V is for validate. Validate every positive thing you can in their life
      E is for empower and expect.

      Another good resource is “The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis”

  3. Mary Josays:

    I had a very good conversation with with a young man when I admitted that I tried to take my life 40 years ago, and was glad that the Lord kept me alive so that I would be able to tell him to hang in there, life gets better, it’s hard and a challenge but worth sticking it out.

    So if you also had a failed suicide admit it to any suicidal person. Perhaps the Lord wants you to help others out of the darkness too.

    • Tyson Howellssays:

      Great advise Mary Jo. I think one big key when we talk about suicide is to be open. We need to take this issue out of the darkness and talk about it.

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