Today I will have a conversation with my kids about suicide. Recently, suicide has touched our local community as it has with so many communities around the country.
I know this conversation will be stressful. Suicide is stressful.
When I was in grad school, professor after professor said to us, you MUST ask new clients about suicide and reassess, reassess, reassess while working with any client. I was fearful as a young student that talking about suicide would “plant the seed” for someone who had not been contemplating suicide. I learned very quickly this is false. In fact, sometimes it would even alleviate the burden of the secret for someone who had been thinking about suicide. I was trained to talk about suicide in an open and honest matter, to be available as a supportive lifeline and to assist clients in navigating barriers to treatment so individuals could receive the help they needed. But still after all of these years, talking about suicide can be stressful.
I know this conversation may be a little scary. Suicide is scary.
Due to the nature of my career as a therapist, my kids have heard my spiel about the importance of good mental health and how vital it is to have healthy coping strategies. They have seen a change in me when I am supporting clients while they navigate heavy issues and concerns. I am not sure if they necessarily see the same value in my work as I do, but they understand the importance of support.
They are both empathic kids. They recognize that emotions have great range and great influence on the way we think and behave. While they are both at an age where they understand suicide is an intentional act, I don’t think either can really comprehend the depths of depression that can scare the mind into thinking death was the only way to alleviate pain and suffering.
Because suicide and death can be scary, I must take into consideration their ages, their developmental stage, their emotional states, and their experiences of what they have been already exposed to through life in the digital age for our conversation.
When talking to my son, who is 10 years old, I will keep to simple and factual statements about mental health, depression, and suicide. I will answer his questions directly but not go into lengthy detail or add my two cents. I just want to begin the conversation and lay the foundation for him feeling comfortable coming to me with any questions or concerns later.
When talking to my 13 years old daughter, I will gather a little bit more of information about what she has heard or knows about depression and suicide. At her age, she has probably experienced more mood fluctuations and heavier thoughts and emotions than my 10-year-old. She probably has seen more on social media or heard more from her friends. I will fact check her data and add any details she may be missing or confused about. I will emphasize how most people go through tough periods in their lives, but usually they are temporary and will give her a brief (super brief because I can already anticipate the eye rolls and broken eye contact) list of warning signs. I will sneak in how to seek support if worried about herself or someone she knows before I overload her and she starts to tune me out.
No matter their age, it is always good to reinforce, they are safe.
I know talking about suicide can be difficult. Suicide is difficult.
It can be a difficult conversation, but we all need to have this conversation about suicide. With our kids, with our partners, with our parents, with our family, with our friends, with anyone we care about. Talking about suicide is difficult, but it must be a conversation we are willing to have.
Even though it is something I am asked to assess in each client session (no matter what the clinical diagnosis or treatment concerns), it can still be a difficult to navigate as just one person. We need more voices advocating for mental health support and access to services.
I believe that if will feel less difficult if everyone learned about mental health issues and suicide. It will feel less difficult if we recognize the risk factors and signs of suicide AND are willing to take action to help someone we love who may need our support or to advocate for suicide prevention.
I know this blog has probably felt alarming. Suicide is alarming.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- However, according to a study in 2018, it is the 2nd leading cause of death in 10–24-year-olds.
- And LBGTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide.
- In 2019, 47, 511 Americans died by suicide.
- That same year, there were 1.38 MILLION attempts of suicide in the United States.
- In 2019, firearms accounted for 50.39% of all suicide deaths.
I can’t imagine what the statistics are after the last 2 years of COVID illness and isolation and a sharp spike in reported troubling bouts of fear, anxiety, and depression. A recent statistic cited in Boston University School of Public Health, 2021, found that rates of depression within the U.S. is now 1 in 3 adults.
And I know this blog has probably felt challenging. Suicide is challenging.
What helps to decrease the challenge is to increase education on mental health and especially on suicide. Education that includes what to do if someone has told you that they are considering suicide:
- Take them seriously. Don’t minimize it as “game playing” or “manipulation”.
- Listen to them. Hear what their experiences and concerns are currently.
- Let them know that you care about them. Let them know their life matters.
- Stay with them to keep them safe.
- Help remove their access to any lethal means (guns, medications/drugs, car keys)
- Seek help and support through calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to 741741 to the Crisis Text Line.
- Escort them to a local mental health facility, hospital, or nearest emergency room.
- Follow up with them, check in and see how they are doing.
There is help. There is always help available. Even when it feels challenging to lean into hope. There is hope. Suicide does not have to be inevitable.