“Don’t think this way,” or “You shouldn’t feel that way,” "What have we done?"
You've probably said something of this nature before. I know I have. But when you take a step back, you can maybe see how this might come across as critical and judgmental. It also sets a standard for how kids express their emotions, or choose NOT to.
This is one of the scariest epidemics I've seen. Tide pods can't even reach the amount of teens and pre-teens that suffer from stress, depression and an ability to properly manage and work through their emotions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), death by suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds, and many more children attempt but do not complete suicide.
A NOTE I MUST MAKE TO PARENTS WHO'VE LOST A CHILD.
For those of you that have lost children in this manner, I am truly, deeply, sorry for your loss. It's my deepest fear as a parent of losing a child. We do our best as parents and things still happen. People still make choices. This is in no way meant to guilt, shame or point figures at any parent. It's simply meant to educate, help make us more aware, and open the lines of communications and the stigmas around mental health in kids.
Most parents, 85%, thought their child would ask them for help if feeling depressed.
It's very common for us to feel like if we don't ask it doesn't exist. My daughter struggled with journaling her thoughts and feelings because if she wrote it down it made it real. But it's perfectly acceptable and in some cases necessary to ask the hard questions like "Are you having suicidal thoughts or actions?"
The biggest antidote to suicide and depression is COMMUNICATION. Here are a few ways you can break down the barriers with your child and talk openly and honestly about their mental health.
Validation is HUGE when it comes to kids feeling like they can share how they are feeling. They want to be heard and understood. You want to make statements that express empathy for their distress: “It sounds like that was really difficult.” “I'm sure that's painful.” “Tell me how that made you feel".
Prioritize The Positive
When we've had some concerns with our kids, we can get hyper critical and then it becomes a viscous cycle. All interactions turn contentious. Interacting in positive ways means doing fun things together, hanging out and chatting about things that aren’t controversial, that aren’t difficult and lowers the resistance to productive and open conversations.
Don't go in to the conversation with expectations or judgement. If you think your child might be suicidal, talk with them about it, ask them about suicidal thoughts. Sometimes people are afraid that if they talk about it it will make suicidal thoughts more real, and suicide more likely to happen. But the truth is that if a child feels that they have someone safe in the family they can talk to, they feel better and more understood. Kids are more likely to open up if you walk with them, so suggest a stroll rather than a formal face-to-face conversation.
Keep weapons locked up.
It's common sense to keep harmful things away from our kids like medications, poisons and weapons but its especially important if there are concerns or risks for suicide. It eliminates any possibility of access to something that could harm easily.
Get your child treatment.
When you break a bone, you get a doctor. When your child needs extra school help, you get a tutor. When your child is depressed or at high risk for depression or another mental illness, you get them proper treatment with a trained professional. They can help them navigate and digest their feelings and emotions in a productive way with no emotional attachment. I've seen it work wonders.
Pray For Them
We need more Jesus in our kids lives. Pray for their comfort. Pray for wisdom to handle their thoughts and feelings. Pray for the right people to be in their lives and support and guide them the way they need.
A friend of mine tragically lost her son to suicide and his friend speaks out. Please take time to listen to this story of how kids feel, how it manifests, how it can effect others, how it might help and gain perspective. Check out their foundation page Change 4 Conner.
If your child or someone else you know is showing the warning signs of suicide, contact your pediatrician, local mental health service providers, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).