With the recent news of celebrities who have died by suicide, the media seems to be buzzing about what we should all be doing individually and as a nation. The CDC estimates the suicide rate has increased by 30 percent since 1999. When a celebrity dies by suicide, both attempts and completed suicides have risen in the past. In general, most people are uncomfortable talking about death, much less suicide. Many people are fearful to discuss suicide with their kids because they are afraid that could give them an idea to try it. This fear has been studied and research shows that talking about suicide is beneficial.
As a mental health counselor working with people struggling with suicidal thoughts, I am embarrassed to admit my own reluctance to talk to my adolescent son about suicide. I can assure you that by avoiding conversing with him about it, nothing was accomplished. Due to the media attention currently surrounding this topic, he texted me a YouTube video about a survivor who had jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge. He commented, “moving video mommy.” I suggest talking to your kids about suicide based on their age:
If your child is seven (7) years old and younger:
I encourage you to breach the subject only if asked and keep it simple. Keep an open mind to questions and introduce the concept of mental health. Talking about death can be frightening. It is very important to be mindful of your words.
If your child is eight (8) to twelve (12) years old:
It is important to acknowledge suicide as a way some people die. Again, simplicity can be helpful, based on your child’s level of maturity. Suicide is the result of untreated depression and research funding is currently underway to better understand what may have been viewed in the past as a “choice.” Let your child know to ALWAYS talk to an adult if they or someone they know mentions suicidal thoughts.
If your child is thirteen (13) to seventeen (17) years old:
At this point, talking to your family about suicide is no long an option, but a MUST! Longer conversations based on your teenager’s concern are required. Asking questions to help initiate further discussion. Talk to your children about what it means to feel a strong sense of social connectedness and what it means to feel burdensome. When a person feels socially isolated and a burden to those around them, they have a much higher risk of doing harm to themselves.
Professional counseling is always required if any person is struggling with thoughts of hurting themselves. Dr. Alexander Niculescu, from Indiana University, is researching a blood test which can indicate certain biomarkers in order to assess a person’s risk for suicide. His research also has offered some insight into certain medicines and nutritional supplements that can help reduce suicidal attempts.
Viewing suicide as a weak or selfish choice will not help our loved ones. Troubling thoughts are automatic and a part of our human life experience; however, we get to decide how we are going to react to the troubling thoughts we may experience. Discussing difficult subject matter usually helps, and avoiding hard topics, conversly, cause our troubling thoughts and feelings to fester and increase.
As with any problem in life, taking an active and direct approach is best. Recent statistics show we all need to take a more proactive stance when we talk about suicide. Take a step in the right direction with your children, and talk about suicide. Because the more you know, the more your children know.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW NEEDS HELP, CALL THE SUICIDE HOTLINE AT 1-800-273-TALK.