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Parents: Don't Brush Off Talk of Suicide as a Plea for Attention

Numbers of suicides are up, and what's horrifying is the realization that those are not numbers, they are people.

His cry will haunt me for the rest of my life.

I was sitting in the same row as he was just several chairs away from him.  We sat in the auditorium of a church during a memorial service for his son.  The finality of the moment became overwhelming to this heartbroken father and the sounds coming from his mouth were soul shattering.  In each wail you could hear his very being crying out for a reason, crying to have his son back, crying because he was helpless to do anything.

I saw emptiness in his eyes, a darkness that I’ve never experienced and pray that I never do.  His son’s suicide had hollowed him of everything that it means to be a parent.  The love you have for your child was turned back on him and was ripping him to pieces.  He was defenseless against its onslaught and so he just sat there and cried. 

Their cries will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Student after student came forward to give testament to what a great young man this boy was.  All shared stories of his short but meaningful life.  And not a single one could make it through without breaking down.  After the group has said its final words they went back stage as a group and behind the closed doors you could hear all the pain and anguish pour out of them in waves.  The muffled sounds of shoulder shaking cries reached into that packed auditorium and caused all of us to pause.

When they finally were able to make their way back to their seats they did so slowly and with puffed eyes.  They walked slowly and without purpose, feet shuffling back to seats they didn’t want.  The vulnerability of their friendship had turned and caused them to deal with emotions they were ill equipped to manage.

Suicide.

It’s a word that should cause every parent reading this to shudder.   And we should shudder because the rate of suicide is getting higher.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention a person dies by suicide about every 14 minutes in the United States and every day, approximately 105 Americans take their own life.  90% of all those that commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.  And according to the CDC’s latest findings suicide is the third leading cause of death for 1-24 year olds.

Those are horrifying numbers and what’s even more horrifying is the realization that those are not numbers, they are people.

So as parents where do we start?  Let’s begin with some common misconceptions about suicide.

"People who talk about suicide won't really do it."

Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like "you'll be sorry when I'm dead," "I can't see any way out," -- no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

"Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy."

Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.

"If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her."

Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

"People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help."

Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six month before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.

"Talking about suicide may give someone the idea."

Not True. You don't give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true—bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. (Taken from SAVE.org)

Ok so now what?  Now we can say we’ve debunked a few myths about suicide what do we do about it?  How can we make sure we prevent it from ever happening to our children?  I’m not going to say that you can do anything to guarantee 100 percent that it will never happen but here are some things we can do to become more aware.

Be aware

You can Google prevention tips for parents and get a massive amount of advice on things to watch for and things to do based on what you’ve seen and how you handle this, that and the other.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t do those things, because there are some really good resources out there for parents.  But for me…I know my children better than anyone.  And the same can be said for you.  So be aware.

If you notice that your normally gregarious child is suddenly withdrawn or if their grades begin to plummet or if there are signs of self-injury or self-medication then act.  Don’t brush it off to teens being moody or going through a phase, these are serious life threatening issues that need to be dealt with quickly and with love.

Here are just a few warning signs taken from American Association of Suicidology :

IS PATH WARM?

I                  Ideation
S                  Substance abuse

P                  Purposelessness
A                  Anxiety
T                  Trapped
H                  Hopelessness

W                  Withdrawal
A                  Anger
R                  Recklessness
M                  Mood changes

This is an easy acronym to help you remember some the early warning signs of suicide.  If you see any of these in combination with the other, you need to seek immediate medical attention.

Act Now

Don’t wait around and don’t brush it off as a plea for attention.  Your reaction to your child may be the key to saving his or her life.  Most people thinking about ending their life will talk with someone.  While they may not talk to you, chances are they will talk to someone close to them.

If you are noticing your child’s behavior shift then start talking to them and their friends.  It may feel like you’re invading their privacy, but I’m a big proponent that children do not have privacy rights.  Add to that the fact that we are talking about life and death.  I would rather my child be angry at me and alive than the alternative.

Get Help

Suicide is a heavy issue and not many of us are qualified to handle it on our own.  So don’t.  Get help and get it quickly.  If you don’t know where to start call the national suicide hotline- 1-800-273-8255.  Get ahold of your child’s school counselor or pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam.  They will be able to point you in a right direction.

Make sure that you do get help though.  Suicide may not have the stigma that it once had but it still carries with it a certain amount of shame.  You must realize that this is not a reflection on your skills as a parent.  This does not speak ill about you.  Just as heart disease doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent neither does mental illness.

This is by no means THE complete list of what to do and what not to do.  And understand that I am NOT a licensed medical professional and you should not take this article as advice from someone that is.  Here is a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  Please us it to get started if you need it. 

My prayer and hope for this post is that it might spark a conversation or thought process for you and your family. 

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