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Suicide should not be a bad word.

Our fear of the topic helps no one. I'm a trauma psychologist and mom, and my little brother died by suicide. I know how afraid we can be of that word.

Dave was 33 when he died, and I could hardly stand to form the word in my mouth out of fear that his tragic death would increase the risk of this kind of death among my remaining family members. My grief has influenced how I talk to my sons, now aged 16 and 12, about suicide risk and overall mental health.

We need to say the word suicide to our children, explaining what it is and why it sometimes happens and what to do if they have suicidal thoughts. Parents are the first responders to the mental health needs of our kids. The safe space of our families is the best place for difficult conversations that feel scary.

The worst case scenario is that suicidal thought should grow in secret, in silence, without the sufferer knowing how to name what they are feeling. Young people should have language for thoughts of self harm, knowledge that these thoughts are relatively common, and a plan for what to do when they occur. Avoiding the topic is not a prevention strategy. In fact, we've seen that opening channels for communication has increased access to help.

Statistics released Sept. 19 from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reveal an increase in calls for suicide prevention and crisis support since mid-July, when the country rolled out the new nationwide 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

To mark Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the MDH revealed that since switching to 988 on July 16, calls have increased by 44%, and texts have increased by 250%. Minnesota has also seen a 173% increase in web chats since January 2022. State officials believe the increase is largely because the number is easier to remember.

It's humbling to think more people are accessing professional help because of something so simple as giving them a forum to talk.

These statistics show the extent of our need to talk about suicidal feelings, and that extends to our children.

Among adolescents and young adults (ages 15-24), MDH data shows Minnesota has a higher suicide rate (15.5 per 100,000) than the national rate (14.5 per 100,000). The suicide rate for young Minnesotans has been higher than the U.S. average for a long time.

Also, youth suicidal ideation, attempts and completion are on the rise.

Of course, this is difficult to talk about. As parents, we know we must talk about sexual activity and drug use with our children before they are confronted with either. Ten o'clock on a Saturday night is way too late to begin a first conversation with your 17-year-old about designated drivers, condom use or sexual consent.

So, too, with suicidal thoughts. Mental health literacy is crucial and must be sprinkled throughout the development periods of our children's lives to help them navigate nuanced and complex feelings. It can greatly benefit those who are facing this type of death.

Research has shown that talking about suicide does not increase a child's risk. This should be our message: Talk to me. Tell someone. Call 988. You're not alone.

Sherry Walling, of Minneapolis, is a clinical psychologist. Her books include "How to Run Your Business Without Letting It Run You" and "Touching Two Worlds: a guide for finding hope in the landscape of loss."