By now, you’ve likely heard that September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Campaigns from national and community groups urge individuals to reach out and not cope with it alone. To Write Love On Her Arms launched a campaign #TomorrowNeedsYou and thousands of people have shared why suicide is not the answer. Check out their resources HERE. They urge individuals to seek help to prevent suicide.
So what happens if your child comes to you with thoughts of self-harm or suicide? Or, more subtly, you notice that your child is exhibiting signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Have that conversation, start by sharing what you’ve noticed and then ask: how are you doing?
Step One: Listen: Resist the urge to fix.
In an immediate crisis, most adolescents are not looking for someone to come ‘fix them’ or prove to them why their perception is not accurate. Try to talk less. Ask open-ended questions and give them space to share their experience. Thank them for being open and honest with you. Remind them that their feelings are not too much for you.
Step Two: Validate: Remind them that it’s okay to not be okay.
As a parent, it’s typical to want to have all the answers or be able to wrap everything up into a ‘teachable moment’ bow. However, an adolescent sharing suicidal thoughts or behaviors isn’t easily wrapped up in a bow after a single conversation. Explicitly tell your child that you see them in their pain and love them just the same. Tell them it is okay that they are not okay in this moment and brainstorm together what the best next step is.
Step Three: Get Help: You do not have to weather this alone.
If you believe your child is not safe and is at immediate risk for harming themselves take them to the emergency room for an immediate evaluation by hospital staff. Otherwise, contact a mental health agency like Haven Youth and Family Services. Our clinicians offer free safety assessments to support your family and can begin therapy within one week in most cases.
“Oh my gosh, I’m literally dead” or “that was so embarrassing I could just die” – statements about death and dying are fairly common in today’s culture. It’s a fine line between a casual statement and cry for help.
Perhaps you’ve thought, “maybe they’re just trying to get attention” with poor or withdrawn behavior or casual suicidal statements. If you believe your child is making suicidal or self-harm statements in order to get attention, by all means give them attention. Receiving attention is part of their developmental needs. Sure, they need to develop some new ways to get the attention, but this should not be ignored. Seek professional help to create a space for your child to receive individual attention and support weekly and consider getting help for yourself so that you can engage in healthy, supportive conversations about these behaviors. The staff team at Haven is determined to provide immediate assistance to adolescents in the community needing intervention. Please call today to set up an appointment.