There are many misconceptions regarding mental health and suicide, such as everyone who dies by suicide has a known mental health diagnosis or people who talk about committing suicide are bluffing. Not only are these statements untrue; they also further encourage people to withdraw and hide when they are struggling rather than ask for help. As we reduce the stigma of mental health and get people talking about their needs, we’ll create a more accepting and healthier community.
We recently sat down with Astra Garner, LPC, LCPC, RPT, Vice President of Clinical Advancement for KVC Hospitals, to discuss suicide risk warning signs, prevention strategies and resources. Astra believes we need to continue talking about suicide in the media and other public forums, but we need to change the narrative. Publicizing suicide without sharing resources on how to get support doesn’t help. News coverage often talks more about the problems that contribute to the increasing suicide rate than it does the solutions, but people suffering from depression or other illnesses need to be reassured that their health problem is fixable and learn where they can go for help. Solutions are often at the bottom of news articles. We need to move them to the top where the most people will see them. Shouldn’t that be the most important aspect of any suicide media coverage?
Continue reading for more from Astra on how you can help keep your child educated and safe.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
There are many resources out there that can guide you on how to start the conversation about suicide with your child. Here are a few we like that can help you get started:
Steps Parents Can Take to Help Prevent Suicide
- Build a foundation of communication: Your child is going to do things that upset you. Before you become angry and respond, take a deep breath and remember that he/she is your child for the rest of their life. You need to build a foundation of trust and communication early to show them that no matter how bad something is, they can always talk to you. They need to know that no matter what happens, you will never stop loving them. The younger your child is when you start building their trust and comfort to be open with you, the more likely it is thatas they get older, they will continue communicating with you.
- Educate your child: Tell your child that it’s normal to experience situations where they feel embarrassed, nervous or overwhelmed and that these feelings will pass. It’s important that we show them how to not make something a bigger deal than it is by keeping that big picture perspective. Also, talk about suicide and dying the same way you teach your children about safety. We talk about the importance of buckling your seatbelt and looking both ways when crossing the street, but we don’t typically hear people tell kids, “don’t die.” We never intentionally explain to a child the value of their life and why we want them to stay alive. We need to be forthcoming with children and be sure they know that, while there are going to be tough times in life, there is always a way to get through it and move forward.
- Understand the warning signs: You know your child best! If you notice any sort of change in your child’s behavior, personality or habits, don’t ignore it. For example, notice if your child has always been very social and is suddenly withdrawn, starts sleeping constantly, or they used to get straight As and now aren’t turning in assignments. These shifts in behavior can be a sign that your child is experiencing a mental health issue or having a hard time with something else, such as getting bullied at school. You need to watch for these signs and proactively talk to them to find out what’s going on.
- Learn from a range of resources: There are various books, articles, online databases, and videos, including suicide prevention resources here on the KVC Hospitals website, that can educate you on how to talk about and seek treatment for suicide ideation. When researching the topic, make sure you’re learning from reputable sources and seeking a range of opinions to find styles, language, and methods that fit best with your family’s needs.
- Talk to your child about suicide: Ask your child if they know what suicide is and if they have heard people talk about. Let them share their understanding of suicide and how it makes them feel, as well as ask any questions they have. Be open to conversations and make yourself approachable. Don’t judge or instill fear. Also, don’t wait for your child to come to you asking about suicide; it’s OK for you to bring it up to them first. If you bring up suicide to your child, they aren’t suddenly going to become suicidal. You aren’t going to put the idea of suicide in your child’s head. Don’t be afraid to talk to them.
- Talk in terms your child will understand. When talking to your child about suicide, make your language very clear. If you’re asking them about their feelings and if they think about suicide, it can be helpful to use a scale. “On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is not at all and 10 is all the time, how often do you think about killing yourself?” This method can make it easier for the child to understand what you are asking and communicate their answer back to you.
Don’t Wait, Start Today
If your child is struggling with depression or mental health, it isn’t going to just go away – you can’t ignore it or think that with time it will pass. It can be situational or a long-term diagnosis and as a parent, you can’t assume one way or the other. Be understanding and accepting as they talk to you about it and get them the appropriate help to find out the best path forward for your child. There isn’t a “one size fits all” with treatment and children’s needs. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
About KVC Hospitals
KVC Hospitals is a nonprofit network of youth psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment facilities, alternative education programs, and other behavioral health services. Each year, we help thousands of children and adolescents who are experiencing a mental health crisis by providing treatment, care and skill-building so they can understand their diagnoses, connect to their support network, and thrive. What makes KVC Hospitals unique is our use of advanced neuroscience regarding healthy brain development and the impact of trauma, and our proven ability to translate this science into innovative, hands-on tools that guide treatment. KVC Hospitals is accredited by The Joint Commission, considered the gold standard in healthcare, and part of KVC Health Systems.