My heart feels very heavy today as I learned not only of the third young person in Florida to die by suicide this week; but, I received 2 distress calls in the last couple days from people I know who were in danger. As the parent of a child who attempted suicide not once, but three times, I’m feeling the need to write.
Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. Far too many kids are dealing with anxiety and/or depression. More than you realize are contemplating suicide.
We never thought we would have a kid who felt that worthless. But, we did. I can’t tell you how many times I have thanked God and the universe that we made it through. I’m often asked “how” which is why I feel compelled to write today.
First, this is no one’s fault. Our kids are very good at hiding their feelings and putting on a mask. There are so many rough things happening in the lives of our children that it’s no wonder they are having such a hard time. They think they must be perfect. Get good grades. Girls are rated. Boys are expected to be men. Kids are drinking to excess. Rape is real. There is so called “consensual sex” happening that isn’t consensual. Kids don’t communicate with their parents. Kids are lying or hiding something. We all bury problems. And on, and on, and on.
You may want to think “this isn’t happening to my kid” or “not in my school”, but what if it is? What if just one of those things was happening to your child?
Do you think you would know? Don’t answer “yes” without really considering the possibility.
We need to talk about these things with our kids and get dialogues started. We need to listen to our children and be present.
I don’t profess to be an expert, and I’m not patting myself or my family on the back. Thankfully, our son survived his darkest of times. He is now happy and successful. After many years of therapy/treatment for our entire family, we no longer worry that he will attempt to take his life. Now, we get to just deal with “regular” issues.
Our son and our family became advocates for suicide prevention and learned to use our experiences and voices to help others. We get calls from families across the country who are experiencing a child in crisis – hence the two calls I got this week. We always do what we can to offer support.
I don’t have all the answers, but there are a few things I would like to share that helped us get through the most difficult times.
Take it seriously. Our son used to say “I’m worthless” or “You don’t need me”. We attributed this “silly talk”, as anger or just as a cry for attention. It never occurred to us that he would attempt to take his life. But, he did. If there is any kind of wonder in your mind, ACT ON IT, and DO IT NOW. It is a cry for help! They are asking for help in the only way they know how!
Be blunt – ask them if they are considering suicide. Please use the word. Sometimes, that might be enough to shake them enough to realizes the magnitude of their thoughts. After we got our wakeup call from our son’s first attempt, we would have open discussions and ask him directly if he was contemplating suicide in that moment. We used the word “suicide”. Too much was at stake to not talk about it.
If you have the slightest thought that some one you know could be suicidal, do not leave their side! Just hug them if they will allow it and if they won’t, then sit in silence. Clear your head and figure out your plan of action. Do not hesitate to get to a hospital. Again, do not leave them alone until you feel they are safe.
Kids in these situations have distorted thinking. They are not being logical and have a very different viewpoint on what is happening around them. Their judgement is terribly clouded by a feeling of nothingness or worthlessness. They truly believe that they cannot do anything right. These are the types of things you can look out for. Suicide is often the only way they can escape the pain they are in. They are not doing it for revenge or to be selfish, but in their minds, ending their life is the only way out. They feel they must show a brave face, which is why suicide is so often missed. As parents, we must be incredibly vigilant. We can’t patronize the kids and dismiss these indications of low self-esteem. We are baffled by the fact that they think so poorly of themselves. We don’t believe it, but they do. Don’t overreact or dismiss when they say they feel worthless, but don’t let it go either. It’s a sign.
Don’t try and tackle it alone. There is no shame in asking for help or in seeking professional guidance. We had a lot of professional help! If your child/spouse doesn’t want to go, think about going yourself. More importantly, if you do go see someone and the fit doesn’t feel right, find someone else. When we were going through our toughest times, we left a multitude of advisors until we found one that we felt comfortable with. This is where you must trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably is not.
Don’t let the judgements or “left field” advice of others get you down. (Strangely, everyone else knows EXACTLY what you should be doing!) When our son was on suicide watch, we were not ready to tell others. As a result, people made assumptions and judgements about us. They called us “hover parents” and told us we needed to get out and spend “couple” time together. Someone even told us that if we got a few visits with a psychologist, it would all be better. This was not possible, but we were not comfortable sharing details at that point. My wish was that people could have had enough respect for the decisions we were making about caring for our child. Some did, but most didn’t and they put distance between us. What we learned is that those people were not real friends. They were not what we needed at the time and that had to be okay. We had to turn inward as a family and we were not able to be social and go out for a while, but, it was a decision we had to make. The thoughts and opinions of others had to be just those. I thoroughly believe our family is closer today as a result of the temporary withdrawal we had to do.
Recovery is hard. It’s painful and a lot of work. Its lonely. It permeates into every aspect of your day. If you work, confidentially let your boss or someone you trust know what is happening. It is very helpful for someone to be able to have your back during the times when you need it. This is corny, but I always use the weather as a guide. There are always cloudy days and bad storms, but, the sun always rises. Some winters are longer and colder than others, but spring always returns. Don’t give up – think of me being on your shoulder telling you to take deep breaths! I’m with you and I know you can do it!
There are many websites describing the signs for suicide, anxiety, depression, etc. Visit them, or you can even confidentially call a crisis hotline – 1800-273-8255. There is even an online chat at http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx They are not going to judge you or think you are overreacting. They are there to help!
Today, we are incredibly open about the challenges we faced years ago. We have been criticized for this, but that’s okay. We don’t force anyone to listen. I consider my family to be incredibly lucky. We worked VERY hard to get to where we are today – all of us. Our experiences shaped who we all are and the way we go about our daily lives. But we won’t forget where we came from and we are passionate that no one should suffer as we and countless others either have suffered or are still suffering.
Most importantly, if you need help, I’m here for you. I care about you and I think you matter.