Suicide and Children

As I write, social media is abuzz about two celebrity suicides in one week.

Moreover, a report this week indicated that suicide is becoming a national health emergency with the numbers as reported by the CDC up 30% since 1999.

Simply put, life is getting harder for those more susceptible to mental health problems and the resources to support them are ever more scarce.

As a parent, if you have any inkling that your child is even contemplating self-harm, get professional intervention immediately.  The scary thing is that parents are reporting on younger and younger children.

I can still see M. before me, skipping up to my office- a typical, happy twelve-year-old girl-smart, attractive, and with lots of friends.

Thank goodness for those friends, because one of them later that day confessed to her mother M.’s plan to kill herself that night at a dance.  Thank goodness, her mom did not hesitate and called M.’s mom. Thank goodness, M.’s mom did not hesitate, but sought out and found a large kitchen knife in her daughter’s bag.  Thank goodness, the family then rushed M. off to the hospital for evaluation. 

M. never did commit suicide, but many just like her–boys and girls–do so, and leave shattered families and friends behind.

As mentioned in a previous blog, the adolescent child is very delicate emotionally, trying to figure out exactly where he/she belongs in the society that is opening up to them.  It does not take much to knock an adolescent off tilter. Moreover, if a child is wired towards depression, anxiety, or other mental challenges, the vulnerability increases. Add to that the child who may be dealing with serious instability in the family or is isolated from peers, or who is systematically bullied, and the chances of at least contemplating suicide increase.

Five things to understand about children and suicide:

  1. Children and teenagers do not understand the permanence of the act of suicide. When upset, they often do not understand that it is a temporary state and that the sun will rise again.  Everything is black. They do not see tomorrow and do not understand that death means forever.
  2. All adolescents suffer a degree of emotional isolation.  For some, it is a healthy daydreaming about who or what is to come; for the bullied white male on the extreme it can be time spent contemplating going out in a blaze of violent glory; suicide-by-cop. Everyone else has their peaks and valleys.
  3. suicide-preventionDo not depend on your child’s friends to keep you informed about his/her life. Acceptance inside the group demands that parents are kept at arm’s length, and it is dangerous for a member to break this rule. Often, a friend will have concerns and may even know of a friend’s plan, but will do nothing until it is either almost too late or actually is too late.
  4. Your child needs a confidant; a person to turn to, and it is often unlikely to be the parent. Maybe it is another adult relative who is perceived as “cool”, or maybe, it is the parent of a friend.  It is really important that a parent in this position does not take offense but enlists this person as an ally and as a conduit to their child.
  5. Understand that the culture is your enemy.  It places unrealistic expectations and demands on every member of our society that none of us can match.  Be it the boy envious of the man in the flashy car advert or the girl who does not understand the trick of photoshopping in getting Kim to look so wonderful, the power of marketing and social media is omniscient in our society, and its standards are impossible for our children to meet.

What should you look out for?

  • Your child’s increased isolation-more time likely spent on the computer and social media
  • Changing habits- your child gives up on old passions such as soccer or dance, and shows no interest in replacing them
  • Changing friendships- your son or daughter changes friends, and not necessarily for the better
  • Lack of interest in family- a withdrawal from family events and relationships beyond the norm for a moody adolescent.
  • Risky behavior -sex, drugs, etc.

From the youngest age, parents must show their children the wonderful alternatives that life offers and that are counter-cultural.  Keep them involved; make giving back a core part of their childhood; expose them to the wonders of the natural world, and emphasize people over things.

There are no guarantees; even the seemingly happiest child may shock us.  I have known five adolescents who killed themselves- four boys; one girl-I can still see their faces.  To the outsider, each one had everything to live for; however, we were all mistaken.

There is one lesson to learn from all this-keep your child close to you, keep communication open as much as possible; and keep judging of their friends and role models private, no matter how hard they make it.

At Confident Parenting, we provide a place for you to bring your concerns.  Do not hesitate to contact us; we are here to listen.