September is Suicide Prevention Month
September is Suicide Prevention Month. It is a great opportunity for parents to begin the dialogue with their child about mental health and suicide. Kids are facing unprecedented stress during today's COVID-19 crisis. Many children and teens are experiencing feelings of isolation, fear of getting sick or a loved one getting sick, and anxiety related to the uncertainties of their parents economic situation. For many kids, this can be a bit too much. As a result, mental health can deteriorate into thoughts of suicide.
For many parents, the thought of broaching such a serious and sensitive topic like suicide can feel uncomfortable and scary, especially to a young and developing mind. Parents may fear that talking about suicide will lead to suicide, or they may not know how to respond if their child expresses suicidal thoughts. But starting the conversation is more important than ever and can be life-saving. Just as children need to be taught how to reach out when they are struggling with school, friends, and other important aspects of their lives, they also need to be taught what to do when their mental health begins to break down and they need help.
How to Talk to Your Child About Suicide
How parents talk to their child about suicide will depend on the child's age. Here are some suggestions on how to discuss the topic, depending on where the child is developmentally and cognitively.
Preschool-Kindergarten: Stick to the Basics.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests not addressing tragedies until they are at least 8 years old. There are exceptions when it comes to a child being exposed to suicide in the family. Read more from American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
Stick to the basics. Talk about death by suicide like you would any other disease, such as cancer.
Use clear, concise words ("I have news to tell you. Uncle John died. We are very sad.")
Encourage questions and feelings, and accept their reaction to the news.
Ages 7-10: Give Short True Answers.
Experts say that honesty with this age group is important, especially if someone close to the child has taken his or her life.
Give short, true answers and see if your child has any follow up questions.
Provide more information about the death without giving too many details (Uncle John died. He had a very serious illness in his brain called depression. While most people can get help with their depression and learn to feel better. Uncle John died from this illness.)
Allow your child to guide the conversation.
Ages 11-14: Be more concrete
By this age, many, if not most kids have heard about suicide. As with children ages 7-10, be honest with them about the cause of death. For someone who had died by suicide in the community (school, church, sports, etc..), it is helpful to first find out what they know.
What have you heard about this person?
What have you heard about suicide?
What are your beliefs about why suicide happens?
Getting this kind of information, allows you to better understand your child's knowledge about suicide so that you can clear up any misconceptions or fears they may have (example: "Only crazy people take their lives" OR "I am struggling with depression so that means I will take my life")
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth and young adults.
directly ask whether they have had thoughts of suicide or if their friend's have.
talk about the warning signs of suicide
explain to your child that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem
teach your child the importance of seeking help if they are feeling anxious or depressed.
let your child know that it is a safe place to talk with your about their emotions
How You Can Help Your Child With Thoughts of Suicide
Take warning signs seriously.
Listen to your child without judgement and show them you care.
Even if you have a suspicion, ask directly about suicide.
Be open to talking about their suicidal thoughts.
Continue to check on their well-being.
Help your child stay engaged in their usual coping activities such as sports or time with friends.
Help your child get connected with a mental health therapist.
Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt like medications, guns, sharp knives, ropes or cords, or cleaning products.
If your child is in imminent danger, seek help immediately by contacting 911, the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL) at 1-800-715-4225, or go to your nearest emergency room. Stay with your child until help is on the way.
Check out this link that includes 10 Things that Parents Can Do To Help Prevent Suicide
Helpful Links and Resources
Books for Children and Teens
Please do not hesitate to contact me at L.firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions and/or concerns about your child's social and/or emotional well-being.