If you’ve ever been so overwhelmed that you’ve contemplated ending your life, you know how scary that can be. If you’ve ever experienced this, you might have felt shocked, fear, and confusion about what it means. The truth is a lot of people have had thoughts of suicide at some time in their life, but as a community, we usually don’t talk about it. At a time where our thoughts and feelings are often open to criticism by close friends, acquaintances, and even strangers through social media it can be hard to know what to share and what to keep inside. I’m sure we’ve all seen posts on social media by celebrities or friends who express depressed feelings or even thoughts of suicide. What we usually find in response is a mixed bag of support and the occasional “he’s/she’s looking for attention.” I can’t tell you how damaging this can be, but it happens. As adults, this is often a lot for us to process and for children, it’s even more challenging. As parents, we do our best to prepare our children for the dangers of life. From an early age, we do things like fire and earthquake drills with our children. We do this even if there has never been a fire or earthquake in the area. Talking openly about Suicide, developing a plan and practicing these conversations is a lot like a fire drill. We hope they never need to use the skill, but we want them to have the skills to use if they ever need them. Below are some basic starting points for developing a suicide safety drill in your own home.
Encourage your child to talk to a specific person! I want you to think of someone in your life who you can trust. Is there someone you know you could tell anything to and they would be supportive, kind, loving and respectful? Now, think of who that person may be in your child’s life? Do they have an adult they can talk to (even if that person isn’t you)? It can be a parent, cousin, an aunt, a teacher, or coach. It can be any adult your child feels can listen to them openly. Have a conversation with your child about who their person is, assure them that it’s okay if it isn’t you, but encourage them to keep someone in mind. Ideally, this person would be someone you also trust would come to you to discuss these things if your child does go to them. If there is no trusted adult in your child’s life, there are plenty of people who can help!
Resources: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 or Text CONNECT to 741741
Teach your child how to open up about Suicide. Let them know that they can start the conversation in person, over the phone or even by text. However; strongly discourage them from posting suicidal thoughts on social media. There may come a time when it’s safe and appropriate to share their experience on social media, but that’s probably after they’ve gotten some support elsewhere.
Let your child know they are not alone, and when talking about their feelings not to be shy about using the word suicide. Using the word suicide gives the person they’re talking to the opportunity to truly understand the severity of the situation and what level of intervention is needed next. Remind them that they might be surprised to hear that a lot of people have been where they are, possibly even the person they’re talking to.
Suzette Toscano, LMFT