Today, our teens are battling an epidemic never witnessed by previous generations. Suicide is on the rise – particularly among teens. In fact, the suicide rate for teen girls alone has doubled since 2007, according to the CDC.
I’m the first to admit, suicide is difficult to understand. In 2012 my husband, Bill, completed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Since then I’ve made it my life’s mission to help those at risk for or considering suicide to find help. As parents, you have more power than you know to get your kids the help they need when and if they need it. Here’s what you should remember when you’re talking to your kids about suicide.
Address the “big picture”
After years of trying understand the “why” behind my husband’s suicide, I’ve come to two very important conclusions. First, I may never understand exactly why someone would take their own life, because I’ll never understand exactly what reality looks like or feels like for that person. Secondly, suicide never happens in a vacuum. That’s why any discussion on suicide should address the big picture – all those elements that play into the decision to complete suicide. These include the risk factors for suicide – like depression and other mental illnesses, alcohol or drug abuse, bullying and gender or sexual confusion, to name just a few. Preventing suicide starts long before your child – or someone else’s – is at the breaking point.
Remove the stigma
To this day, my husband’s parents can’t accept that their son completed suicide. Instead, they hold onto the idea that his death was an accident. As a society, we have carefully protected the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide. Bill’s life may have turned out quite differently had the idea of getting help for his addition and depression been so shameful. That’s the terrible power of a stigma; it keeps those who need help from getting it. Make sure your child knows that no matter how they feel, it’s okay (and even encouraged) to talk about it. Understanding that mental illness is just that – an illness—can also instill in your child a healthy sense of empathy, something that can save a life in itself.
As I’ve witnessed news report after news report detailing the suicide of a celebrity or a young person, I’m always alarmed by the level of detail paid to everything except what really matters – where someone can go if they feel at risk. I’ve traveled the country not only to raise awareness of and knowledge about teen depression and suicide, but to instill in our youth a sense of hope for the future. The teenage brain is very finite; the reality it perceived in the moment is the only reality. That can be a really dangerous thing when your child feels lonely, depressed or hopeless. Make sure your child knows that depression is a disease, and diseases are treatable. Getting help for depression isn’t a sign of defeat – it’s a signal of hope.
Don’t just talk
Talking to your kids about suicide is important – it’s critical. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing all the talking. Your goal isn’t just to share information; it’s also to open the doors of uncensored communication. If your child can leave the conversation with just one takeaway, it’s that they can talk to you about anything, anytime. I always suggest that parents make a point to ask their kids one simple question on a regular basis: Are you okay? My book, “R U OK: Teen Depression and Suicide” helps show parents and teens how to structure those important, lifesaving conversations. To request a copy, visit www.thegriefgirl.com.
by Kristi Hugstad
Each of us has attached ourselves to something or somebody, and when you lose that special thing or person, you grieve. Always. You can try to run from it all you want, but it will always find you and tackle you when you’re not looking. My blogs, along with my books, will give you the tools to help you learn to live with your new self as you journey through your grief.