Suicidal Thoughts: When A Teenager Asks You Not To Tell

Picture this. 

You have been the Small Group Leader for a 15-year-old girl since she was in middle school. It took a long time for her to let her walls down, but she’s finally started to let you into her life. You tried a million different things, but the only thing that worked was time. The longer you were in her life, the more she trusted you. 

Then one day she texts you and tells you she is having dark thoughts. Thoughts that scare her. Thoughts of hurting herself. Thoughts of potentially ending her life. 

She says things like, “I know I can trust you. I know you won’t tell anyone.”

And instantly, you feel tension. Because she trusts you, and you want her to trust you. You worked long and hard to build that trust. But at the same time, you know she needs help. You know you need to bring someone else into the conversation. You know you need to contact her parents to get her the help she needs. She is a minor, after all. 

But if you contact her parents, she may never talk to you again. Just like that, all that trust you worked to build would be broken. 

But if you don’t contact her parents and something happens to her…. Well, that’s not a risk you’re willing to take, is it? 

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to a tension this big. There’s no cookie cutter solution for these types of situations. In a situation so sensitive, no solution feels like the right one. Moments like these are potentially the hardest for Small Group Leaders and students. When trust and life feel like they hang in the balance of your next step, it’s hard not to feel like you’re backed into a corner. 

Although there’s no guarantee, I do think there’s a way to approach the situation that will help you preserve and protect trust both with your student and their parents. Here are a few talking points that have worked for me in the past, and will maybe help you navigate this kind of conversation.  

If you find yourself having a sensitive conversation with a student who is trusting you with something potentially dangerous, here’s where you can start in crafting your response. 

  • Thank you so much for trusting me enough to tell me how you are feeling. It takes a very strong, brave person to say these words to someone else. I am really proud of you.

  • I really care about you, and I am so sorry you are feeling this way. And I want to do what I can to help you.

  • The trust we have is so important to me. That’s why I want to be really honest with you about what I need to do to get you the best help you need. 

  • I know you don’t want me to tell anyone, and I totally understand that. It’s scary to think about people finding out about something so personal to you. But because you are under the age of 18, I am legally obligated to look out for you and get you the help you need. But here’s the thing: I can’t get you that help without talking to you parents, first. 

  • I care so much about you that I can’t leave you feeling this way. I believe there’s hope and help out there, but we can’t take steps toward that until I talk to your parents. 

  • So please know when I talk to your parents, I want you to know that I’m not telling on you. I’m going to them so they can get you the help you need so you can start feeling better. 

  • If you would prefer to talk to them about how you’re feeling, I totally support that. If you think it would be easier for me to be there when you talk to them, we can do that, too. Or if you would rather me talk to them for you, I’d be glad to do that.  

  • How we do these next steps is totally up to you. We just have to do it today because I don’t want you to have carry this alone anymore. 

Let’s be honest: All of this is easier said than done. You could do everything “right,” and there’s still no guarantee of the outcome. That student may still cut you out. They may still throw a fit. They may even stop trusting you for a while.

But you know what? That’s okay. You still did the right thing. And when that student is healthy again, they’ll begin to see that you did what you did because you really do care about them. You had to take the necessary steps to get them the help they needed. And once they get that help, their heart will begin to change.  

These kinds of situations aren’t easy. That’s because trust between you and your student is so very valuable. But there is an art to navigating a conversation like this in a way that protects and preserves as much trust as possible. 

And know this: Prayer is key. Seek God’s wisdom. Ask for His Spirit to work in your student and their parents. And trust that He sees you, hears you, and loves both you and your student. 






Ashley Bohinc