When you suspect your child is thinking of taking their own life, you may feel panicked. You might start wondering what you did wrong or why this is happening to you. But take a deep breath and refocus your attention: the most important thing for you to do now is support your child and get him or her help.
Though you are certainly going through your own emotional rollercoaster — and that’s OK — it’s crucial that you put aside your own feelings (for now). Here are a few ways you can support your child during these difficult times.
1. Be Available to Listen
The most important thing you can do is be ready to listen. Let your child know that you are there for them and ensure that they feel safe talking to you. Do your best to control your emotions during this time. If you burst into tears every time they open up to you, they may be too afraid they’ll upset you to come to you in the future. Focus on keeping your reactions calm, supportive, and understanding.
Avoid arguing with your child. Many parents, confused and distressed about their child’s feelings, end up saying, “You have nothing to be depressed about; your life is great.” But this will not only fail to have a positive impact, it will also cause the child to feel guilty about their mental state. Depression occurs regardless of life situations and should never be minimized or dismissed, even if you’re trying to help them see the good in their life.
2. Offer External Help
Many children do not receive the counseling they need when they begin to experience depression. It can often be waved off as teenage mood swings or a phase of some kind. If your child expresses a desire to get professional help, find it for them. As minors, they do not usually have the right to confidentiality. They need the parents on board with how they feel and what their needs are.
If you feel you are in over your head, seek your own external resources. Crisis centers and hotlines are good places to get free or affordable advice and care. It may even be beneficial to seek advice from your child’s friends. Friends will always know a different side of your child than you no matter how good your parent-child relationship is.
If your child is experiencing a problem with an addiction, immediate help toward recovery is needed. There is a strong link between addiction and suicide and an untreated addiction can be deadly regardless of the love and support your child may receive.
3. Protect Your Child’s Privacy
The last thing your child wants is the entire family fussing over them. Restrict conversations about your child’s mental health to your partner and children (if necessary). Even if you’re just trying to vent or seek counsel, talking about their mental health with other people can be seen as a form of betrayal and could likely prevent them from confiding in you when it counts. Ask them who they are okay with knowing before you talk about it outside the home.
This confidentiality may be violated out of necessity, however. In the event that you are concerned for your child’s safety, calling 911 might be your only option. Their safety is your first priority, so worry about mending fences once their life is out of jeopardy.
Dealing with a suicidal child is frightening and upsetting. You may feel helpless or upset that your child has fallen on such hard times. However, recovery is possible with some outside help and good support from you. Stay calm and empathetic, be private and respectful when it comes to discussing the situation, and never be afraid to consult a professional.
Image via Pixabay by Cparks
Jennifer McGregor is the co-creator of PublicHealthLibrary.org, which was made for one of her pre-med classes as a project. With the site, she intends to provide various resources pertaining to medical inquiries and general health. When Jennifer is not busy being a student, she enjoys walking her dog through the park.