It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Having to wake up tomorrow knowing your child is no longer here. For some parents this nightmare truly does become a harsh reality, whether from sickness or other causes, the loss of a child is never anything less than a tragedy. In this post today we explore one of the leading causes of childhood death, and how it can be prevented. Suicide has been a forefront in the minds of parents from all walks of life these past few years, with so many young people either attempting or following through it’s turned families upside down in mere moments, sometimes with what seems like no warning at all. We wonder why a beautiful young lady would want to take her own life, or a young man, with so much potential what could drive them to believe this is their only way out. The reasons are complex and sometimes we may never know the whole truth behind why our loved one makes this tragic decision. So as we go on right now, we delve in to the statistics, the causes as well as signs that one might exhibit prior to acting on their thoughts and feelings. Our world as a whole must take responsibility for our children, and be their voices on this heart wrenching subject, because we do have the power to prevent it.
According to The Boston Children’s Hospital’s website suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds, and the fourth leading cause of death among 10-14 year olds. They also state that for every completed suicide (most of which are boys), there are upwards of 100 suicide attempts and those attempts are more likely to be carried out by young girls. Children are so very impressionable, and while on the outside, and to onlookers, they may seem happy and content, there are often many things brewing inside. It’s difficult for young kids, especially those who are dealing with bullying or issues with self image or self worth, to ask for help. They may feel lost or hopeless and many times they begin to believe what the bullies are telling them. They view suicide as a means to an end. A way to stop their pain and suffering, often deciding they have no other way out.
The first group of people I would like to address are the children and young adults. The ones who are most at risk of developing thoughts of suicide. You must know that you are not alone. You’re not the first to think you’re fat, or ugly. You’re not the first to be picked on or bullied. Everyone has self-doubt to one degree or another. There is not one person on this earth who is completely happy with the way they look or with who they are. Whether it be their hair, or their bodies. The freckles on their face or the scar their arm. We all have something about our bodies that we wish we could change. Everyone has a different level of understanding, some are good at math while others are good at science. We may lack in areas that our classmates excel. We all find our own talents along the way, but just because you may not have found yours yet doesn’t mean that you won’t. Learning disorders like dyslexia and behavioral problems like ADHD don’t make you stupid or weird. They make you different and they make you special. Being young, your differences are not always qualities that you can appreciate or accept completely, but given time you will learn to love them, as will others around you. All throughout my younger years in grade school, I was picked on. I am a redhead and I have ADHD. I am different. I wear glasses. They called me names, tormented me on the bus, pulled on my braids in class and poked fun at my freckles. Today I am twenty-three, I am the person everybody wants to know. The men think my red hair is attractive and my freckles are “cute.” People love my sense of humor, and my ADHD has allowed me to think outside the box. Being different has given me the opportunity to see the world in a way that others don’t. I am an artist with views and opinions that make others think, I am able to open up new doors, new views for others and I know that I better their lives just by being here. If I had let the bullies win back then, there would be so many people missing out now. I found my purpose as I grew up, and I know that there is a reason I was put on this earth. There is a reason you are all here, too. Somebody loves you more than you know, and the longer you live the more people are going to love you. The more lives you are going to touch, the more more lives you are going to better. There are thousands of people that you haven’t even met yet, that need you on this earth because without you here, there life isn’t going to be complete. You ARE strong, you ARE smart, you ARE beautiful and you ARE loved. Most of all you are needed, and there is someone some where, who needs you to be here if only to change their world for the better and help shape THEM into the person they are supposed to be, just as others will help to shape you into the person you will become.
To the bullies, the ones who push these people to feel this way about themselves, shame on you. Most of the time you’re just children yourself, and I know that you’re insecure and that you’re looking for answers to who you are and where you fit in. There are better ways to go about it. As peers in school, you have so much more power over the other kids than you realize. You can make or break them simply by deciding whether you want to be a friend, or a bully. Each and every child in should take a moment every day before they head off to their classes in the morning and ask themselves, “do I want to be the reason someone takes their own life?” Because if you decide that putting someone down is okay, then every time you do it, that is the risk you’re taking. Often times children bully because they have things going on in their own lives that make them feel insecure and hurt. These bullies, in so many cases, are in pain themselves. If you are that person, then ask for help. You’re important too. Everything I said in the paragraph above applies to you as well. You deserve the chance to live your life knowing how much you’re worth and how important you are in this world. But under no circumstances is it ever okay to belittle or hurt someone else in order to build yourself up. As hard as it is to understand at such a young age, you could do so much more in this world, and make a bigger difference in each other’s lives if you came together, than you will ever do tearing each other apart. Learn from the examples set forth by the generations that came before you. The anti-slavery movement, women’s rights advocates, The Revolutionary War. These people stood up for each other and did what was right. They empowered each other, and the world became a better place because of them. You have the power inside each and every one of you to be a hero. It’s up to you if you’re going to be that hero, or if you want to be the person who looks at themselves in the mirror someday and doesn’t like what they see. If you found out that the person you are bullying was getting physically abused at home, wouldn’t you tell someone? If you’re bullying them, then YOU are the abuser. It’s an amazing feeling to look back when all is said and done, and know that in the end you did something worth while. Grow up being the kind of person that YOU can be proud of, regardless of what anyone else thinks. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t.
As parents, we can be our child’s best advocate. Though your children may not want you to get involved, for fear that it will only make things worse, as a parent you must follow your instincts. You know your child better than anyone, and you will more than likely see the first signs that something is wrong. They may be more withdrawn, they may start giving their things away, or they might even be more attentive and loving than usual. Attempts to assure you and others of their love for you, if out of character can be a red flag. Other verbal clues like “I’d be better off dead” or “you’ll be sorry when I’m gone” should never be ignored. These signs, though easy to miss, can mean they are starting to say their good-byes. Suddenly getting into trouble, at home or school, or even legal trouble is a sign that you should begin worrying about their mental health. While most children who act out, are simply going through a phase, many children who contemplate suicide act out in the attempt to distance themselves from their loved ones. They subconsciously believe that doing so will make their death easier to take, and less tragic. Talking to your child about suicide, like any other touchy subject should be handled carefully. Sometimes just coming right out and asking “are you planning on committing suicide?” Is the best course of action. Don’t fear putting the idea into their heads, if they’re going to do it the idea was already there, otherwise the only thing your putting in their head is that it’s okay to talk to you. Openly asking your son or daughter about suicide, without fear or disapproval shows them that you are taking their feelings seriously. It can be enough to make them open up and tell you the truth. If there is any doubt in your mind, or you believe you have any reason to worry, seek help immediately. A child who is serious about it usually has a plan. It’s likely that they won’t wait long after they know you suspect, and the chances of them successfully following through are too great to chance it. A child who openly says they want to kill themselves, isn’t always saying it for the attention, and these verbal cues should always be taken seriously before they turn into actions. Many times a child who says they want to die, or makes an attempt at taking their life is screaming out for help. Sometimes kids will use these lines to seek attention, and it’s easy to brush it off. While it’s likely that if they are saying it instead of doing it means they are simply acting out, are you willing to bet their life on it?
School officials should offer support for any child that seems depressed, or in any way upset. They should always offer counseling and teachers should check in with any student that they notice having difficulties in school, or students that are more closed off from their peers. These kids are at a higher risk for suicide because they don’t have the social interaction that the other children get, and they may be getting bullied, or they may be having difficulties at home. If the child is uncomfortable speaking with a school counselor, they should be urged to talk to their parents or a family doctor. Anyone that the child trusts will suffice. It’s important to urge the child to get help in any circumstance that may put the child’s mental health at stake. Teachers are usually trained to handle this sort of thing, but with so many kids in a class it can easily slip by. Offering to be that friend or trusted person can sometimes work, however some kids can have trouble talking to a teacher, or another adult that they view as an authority figure. Teachers should openly communicate with parents for any child who seems off, or shows a sudden change is personality or school work. Following the school’s particular guidelines on suicide prevention and parent-teacher communication can go a long way in nipping these situations in the bud. It’s important that there be a multi-faceted approach to suicide prevention that includes support from family and friends, as well as teachers coupled with the medical attention one needs to help them work through this difficult time. Everyone must be on the same page in order to ensure the child’s safety and well-being in all environments while they recover from the trauma and learn how to cope, and handle, their thoughts and feelings.
As for children, if you notice your friend acting strangely, or if they say or do anything that makes you worry about their safety you should always tell someone. Whether that someone is a teacher, your parent or theirs, telling someone could mean the difference between having your friend around or losing them. Parents should also educate their children about the signs of depression and problems in other kids so they know about what to look or in their friends and others that they care about. You should urge your child to be open with you if they should ever suspect something like this is going on, and assure them that they are doing the right thing. Letting them know and teaching them to understand that having a mad friend is always better than having a dead friend, can go a long way in curbing suicide amongst young people, as children tend to open up about these things to their friends much easier and much sooner than they do to anyone else. It’s also very important to get children the proper help and guidance when mourning the loss of a friend or loved one to suicide. This may heighten your child’s risk of developing suicidal thoughts, as it can be highly devastating and confusing to a child. Their minds can wander to places that make them wonder what it might feel like, or if it might be the answer to their own problems. Children who have family member that have committed suicide are at a higher risk of suicide themselves and should be watched closely by their friends and family and changes in behavior or personality should be noted, and taken seriously. Teaching your child how to be a good friend is an important step in them learning how to deal with these situations. As parents we all want our child to be an upstanding citizen, however that can be more difficult at a young age than we realize. Letting them know that being a good friend means always putting safety first is a priority in what we must teach our children. While being able to keep a secret and establish trust is of utmost importance it can hinder the child’s ability to come forth in a situation that can mean life or death. Setting a clear line for kids on what is okay to keep quiet and what should be told to an adult immediately, will help them differ between the two. Each parent must figure out when their child is emotionally ready to handle this conversation, and how to go about teaching them these lessons.
Parents as well as friends and school officials should always listen to what children are saying, and always take what they say seriously. Even if you think your child would never do something like that, you can never be too cautious. A child’s brain is still developing past their teen years, and as such it’s constantly changing. From one moment to the next they may not feel the same. Think of it as being akin to having bi-polar disorder. They don’t have the capacity to control their thoughts and emotions in the same way that a fully developed, healthy, adult brain does. This can lead to dangerous, sometimes fatal consequences and you can’t always rely on your child to come to you in difficult situations, no matter how much you have imprinted on them that you are always there for them. Most often these kids feel they are protecting you simply by keeping quiet. You must go to them, keep your eye on them and do your best to know what’s going on in their lives. Be their friend second, and their parent first. Educate yourself on the signs and how to talk to a child who may be contemplating suicide. Find the resources available to you in case you or someone you know should ever need them. You can’t be too careful when it comes to the fragile minds of children. They rely on us to be their advocates, to understand them to the best of our ability and to be able to get down to their level in order to help them emerge from whatever difficulties they are going through. Children can’t always see past tomorrow, and sometimes suicide winds up being the only thing they can see to end their pain and suffering. Let’s give them something else to look forward to. A life full of love, and people who are willing, ready and able to do whatever it takes to help them.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – This resource is for those who are either thinking of committing suicide and need help, or for those who know someone who is or think they may. They offer information as well as a hot-line that you can call, the number is below as well. They also have a live chat available on the website for anyone who isn’t comfortable talking on the phone about the problems they are having. This organization is here to help anyone who is in a crisis and wants everyone to know they are not alone. They are here for you 24/7.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone #: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide – This website has many helpful tips and links available to parents. Everything from videos to printouts. It’s a wonderful resource for a parent who may not quite know how to start the conversation with their child on suicide, or what to do after. It also has some good advice for those who’s child may be grieving after losing a friend or family member to suicide.
Helguide.org – A website that provides resources for parents on the signs and symptoms of childhood depression, as well as what to watch out for when it comes to suicide and how to approach the situation if it should arise.
CDC Website on Suicide – A wealth of information covering the many aspects of suicide, including statistics, prevention strategies, data and many other resources.