A father and son leaning over a fence having a somber discussion

Reminding your son that you're by his side will help him feel less alone.

Although finding out that your son is grappling with suicidal thoughts can be extremely distressing, it’s important to understand that suicidal thoughts do not mean that the worst is inevitable. There are ways to help your son, and with the proper professional support, suicide is preventable.[1]

As a parent, you can be a great source of support during this difficult time. A study including over 600 young men (19-20-year-olds) who were followed for over a year showed that social support (including support from parents) is significantly associated with decreased anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.[2]

Your presence, understanding, and guidance can play a critical role in your son’s road to recovery. Below are some potentially life-saving tips to support your son:

1. Recognize Warning Signs

Key warning signs that your son may be experiencing thoughts of suicide include:

  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Talking about suicide or death in general, even if it does not seem to relate to himself
  • Withdrawing from others (friends, family, classmates, etc)
  • Seeking out means to die by suicide (e.g., buying rope, a gun, drugs)
  • Efforts to put affairs in order for after his death, such as donating possessions

He may say something along the lines of:

  • “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
  • “I’m sick and tired of living.”
  • “I don’t want to be a burden on everyone.”
  • “I wish I wasn’t even born.”
  • “I just want to disappear.”
  • “I wish I was dead.”

For a more comprehensive look at how to recognize and assess warning signs of suicide, see our page on Managing Suicide Risk.

2. Have an Open Conversation with Him

Having a conversation with your son about suicide can be intimidating. It’s okay to feel unsure about how to approach the topic and be worried about saying the wrong thing. However, having this conversation can be a turning point in your son’s recovery. Following the advice below is much better than saying nothing at all.

Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers and you’re not expected to be a therapist for your son. Your most important role is to become a trusted source of support who he feels comfortable talking to, and a person who encourages or helps connect him with professional support. Here’s how to have the conversation:

Create a safe space free of distractions

  • Choose a place this is private and quiet, where your son will feel comfortable.
  • Try to ensure there won’t be any disruptions and give ample time for the conversation (avoid multitasking during this conversation – talking to your son should be your main priority).

Share your observations and concerns

Try broaching the conversation with observations about recent changes in his behaviour. Ensure that you avoid phrases that your son could interpret as you accusing or blaming him for things. Instead, use “I” statements to convey your observations.

You can try saying something like:

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve not been hanging out with your friends as much lately and have been keeping to yourself much more. I’m concerned that there is something going on that’s causing you to withdraw from people in your life. I’m here to talk if you need to.”
  • “I’ve noticed that you’ve been drinking a lot more recently. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves why we’re drinking. Are you drinking to have fun, or drinking to drown something out? If there is anything you want to talk about, I’m always here son.”
  • “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been sleeping well, going to classes late, some days not going in at all. What seems to be weighing on your mind these days? I’m always here for you.”

If your son has mentioned not wanting to be around anymore, talked about death, or has made references to wanting to end his pain/misery, try asking:

  • “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”
  • “Are you feeling suicidal?”
  • “Do you want to end your life?”

Let him know you care about him

Acknowledge and accept your son’s emotions, even if it may be difficult for you to understand. This allows your son to feel heard and lets him know that he has your unconditional love and support.

You can try saying:

  • Don’t feel guilty about having those thoughts, depression is a real illness like diabetes. It can happen to anyone. It’s not your fault. You don’t have to go through this on your own – I’m always here for you.”
  • “It sounds like there’s a lot of pain behind what you’re saying. I’m grateful that you trusted me to be open and honest about how you’re feeling. We can work through this together.”

Ask open-ended questions

Utilizing open-ended questions can be an effective way to encourage your son to more fully express himself and his feelings. Try asking questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no” and instead opt for questions that encourage your son to expand on his thoughts.

Some examples of open-ended questions include:

  • Tell me more about what’s going on?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • What do you think might help you feel better?
  • How have you been coping with these feelings?

Listen to him without judgment

When your son is opening up to you and sharing his experiences, it is important that you don’t interrupt him. Wait for him to finish expressing his thoughts and feelings before responding. When formulating responses, try to not make assumptions or dismiss what your son is saying. Judgment-free listening can help create a relationship built on trust and allow for him to share more openly with you.

By acknowledging your son’s feelings and concerns, you can help decrease feelings of isolation that he may is likely experiencing and affirm that you’re there for him.

Our article on Active Listening provides a detailed guide on how best to show him you’re really listening.

Normalize his experience

Normalizing your son’s experiences can help him feel less alone and isolated in his struggles. Let your son know that many men experience similar thoughts and challenges and that this is nothing to be ashamed of.

By normalizing his experiences, you are letting him know that he’s not so different or alone in his pain as he may think he is.

Don’t try to downplay or solve his problems

If your son shares his concerns with you, it’s natural to want to find solutions to his problems for him. However, the most important thing is to listen empathetically, allowing your son to feel heard and understood.

Here are some examples of what NOT to say:

  • “I put so much time, effort, and money into giving you a great life, I don’t know why you aren’t happy. So many people have it worse.”
  • “You’re just having a bad day, we can go out for dessert and you’ll feel better.”
  • “I went through the same issues before and I never thought about taking my life.”
  • “I know you’ve been going through some hard times, but don’t scare us like this, we have enough to worry about.”

Offer hope and reassurance

Remind your son that depression is treatable and that you will always be by his side as he works toward recovery.

Other men who have felt like this have been able to get better, so his recovery is possible too.

For more advice on having these types of conversations and examples of what you can say, see our Gauging and Responding to Suicide Risk page.

3. Encourage Him to Seek Professional Advice

Although having open conversations with your son can go a long way in his recovery, it does not replace the need for him to speak with a qualified mental health professional.

Let him know that seeking support is a sign of strength. Offer him reassurance by sharing that mental health professionals are trained specifically in helping those experiencing suicidal thoughts and that they can provide him with the necessary support and tools to overcome these challenges.

There are two main options here that we want to encourage: seeing a family doctor (for diagnosis and referrals) or meeting with a talk therapist (for more ongoing support and to help delve into the root causes of his thoughts).

If he is reluctant to connect with a professional, try making the analogy of not seeing a doctor if he had a broken leg. Seeking help for mental health is just as important as seeking help for a physical health problem.

If he needs help in finding a professional to talk to, our Therapist Directory lists qualified mental health professionals who have specialized experience working with men. You can search by location to find someone in your area.

You and your son can also check out our HeadsUpGuys Guide to Talk Therapy to get a better sense of what therapy can be like, how to make the most of it, and how to know if it’s working.

In addition to helping him find a professional, you could also offer to make appointments or drive him to them.

4. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment for Him

Creating a safe environment entails taking steps to reduce his risk of suicide. With your son’s permission, try to remove any potentially dangerous items such as weapons and medications from his immediate access.

If he lives with roommates or a partner and is open with them about having suicidal thoughts, try to encourage them to also be mindful of his safety and to keep potentially harmful items out of reach.

5. Set up a Game Plan for Crisis Situations

Talk to your son about possible crisis situations (in which he is afraid of acting on his thoughts of suicide) and help come up with a plan for him to get help. Establish who he will call, what he will do, which crisis lines he can contact, and where the nearest emergency room is.

Setting up a crisis game plan can help you and your son feel more prepared and in control should a crisis arise.

For more on what you can do to protect your son’s safety should his thoughts of suicide ever shift to intent or action, see our How to Help In a Crisis page.

6. Check In with Your Son Regularly

Supporting someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide requires a consistent presence on your part, so it’s important to regularly check in to see how your son is feeling. Depending on your relationship, this could mean daily or weekly check-ins.

It’s also important to keep an eye on your son’s behaviour and be aware of any changes that could indicate a heightened risk of suicide.

7. Support Yourself

Taking care of your own mental health is essential when trying to help out a loved one who is struggling with thoughts of suicide. It is natural to try to give it your all to help your son, but you can’t neglect your own well-being.

Take time for yourself and get support from friends, family members, or a mental health professional.

It takes a team to fight depression. You can be an important part of your son’s team, but you shouldn’t be the only person he relies on.


Remember, with the right support and resources, it is possible to prevent suicide and recover from mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. Let your son know that he is not alone and though he may feel stuck now, many men have recovered from having suicidal thoughts, and he can too.

For a more comprehensive look at how to recognize and assess warning signs of suicide, see our page on Managing Suicide Risk.

Next Steps:


References:

  1. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Suicide. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide
  2. Scardera, S., Perret, L. C., Ouellet-Morin, I., Gariépy, G., Juster, R.-P., Boivin, M., Turecki, G., Tremblay, R. E., Côté, S., & Geoffroy, M.-C. (2020). Association of social support during adolescence with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in young adults. JAMA Network Open, 3(12). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.27491

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024