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.
On Tuesday morning, we woke to news that designer Kate Spade had complete suicide by hanging herself – with a scarf. By Friday morning, the news was covering Anthony Bourdain’s suicide by hanging. As I combed the articles and updates for suicide resources, I found most of them lacking. In many cases, the juicy, morbid details took center stage over the more important topic of discussion – where to get help.
The deaths of these two individuals is devastating – not because they were prominent and successful (although they certainly were both) – but because they were two people suffering immense pain who felt that they had nowhere else to turn. Anyone reading about the suicides should have information on where to go for help, should they need it.
Because, guess what? Suicidal people read about suicide. My husband, Bill Brotherton, completed suicide by train in Dana Point several years ago. He had never been diagnosed with mental illness, but – unbeknownst to me – had been exhibiting the warning signs for suicide for months. Those warning signs included a preoccupation with death and suicide.
What I understand now is that suicide – much like mental illness – does not discriminate. My husband, along with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, seemed to have it all – a great career and healthy relationships. And yet all three tragically chose to end their lives. And unfortunately, they aren’t anomalies.
The CDC reports that suicide rates have increased by 25 percent across the United States over the last two decades – and more than half of those who died by suicide had never been diagnosed with a mental health condition. With 45,000 lives lost to suicide in 2016 alone, this is now a critical mental health crisis.
Americans as a whole, and specifically our youth, are in drastic need of education and information. Rather than reporting morbid details, we need relevant, tactical information on suicide and the resources available to anyone who needs help. Andy Spade, Kate’s estranged husband, said that there were no warning signs. The thing is, those warning signs are easily overlooked by those not educated on them – as I was not when my husband needed me to be. The bottom line is that the average person just doesn’t know all the risk factors and warning signs for suicide.
So how can we fight this growing epidemic? We need to cut the stigma associated with mental illness. My husband never wanted to “disappoint” people – including me – by talking about his struggles. Kate Spade feared injuring her brand by seeking help. But illness is illness, whether it’s cancer or diabetes or depression or any other number of mental illnesses. Education is the key to removing that stigma and helping those in pain.
Since my husband’s death, I’ve made it my life’s mission to educate young people, along with their teachers and parents, about suicide. My book, R U OK? Teen Depression and Suicide, is filled with the resources and tactical information the media lacks in its coverage of these tragic events.
Some of the information presented in "R U OK?" include:
Suicide warning signs
Risk factors for suicide
Suicide affects every demographic, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or background. That said, there are several factors that make someone more likely than another to complete suicide. Those risk factors include:
Suicide knows no time or season. By knowing how to spot suicide risk, you can save the life of someone you love.
I would invite anyone interested to visit www.thegriefgirl.com for a free copy of this book. Suicide is tragic; doing nothing about it is unforgivable.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.I would invite anyone interested to visit www.thegriefgirl.com for a free copy of this book. Suicide is tragic; doing nothing about it is unforgiveable.
You might think you know what bullying looks like, but today, bullying comes in countless forms – and with innumerable consequences. Unfortunately, it’s a hard truth that nearly a third of America’s students grades 6 to 12 have experienced bullying, while nearly 70 percent have witnessed bullying at school.
Chances are, they’re not all wearing black eyes.
Today’s bullies aren’t the beefy, leather-jacket wearing jocks of old movies and cartoons. Today’s bullies lurk in unexpected places – like your child’s social media inbox or his incoming texts. And today, bullying has ramifications that go way beyond broken bones and bruised egos. In fact, newscasts are frequently dotted with stories of teens and young adults who complete suicide after enduring bullying at school or online. In my book, “R U OK? Teen Depression and Suicide,” I speak of one teen driven to suicide after bullying made her feel isolated, alone and terribly depressed.
No teen should ever feel what so many of our youth face every day. If you suspect your child (or one you love) is being bullied, it’s time to talk about it. Knowing the signs of bullying is the first step to saving a teen’s dignity, her self-esteem and possibly her life.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Risk Factors for Bullying
Make no mistake, bullying is everyone’s problem.
It could happen to the poorest kid on the street – or the richest. A shy tuba player in the band could be the target; so could the captain of the cheerleading squad. Bullying can happen to anyone, and that’s why it’s so important to recognize the warning signs that your child or one you love is experiencing bullying. That said, there are several reasons a teen might become the target of bullying. These “risk factors” include:
Too often, parents learn that their child experienced bullying too late. While your teen may not be considering suicide, if he’s being bullied, it’s undoubtedly affecting his confidence and self-esteem. If you suspect bullying, your first step is asking a simple question: R U OK? This question graces the cover of my book because, too often, teens think they have to face their challenges alone. Asking the question opens a dialogue that in turn can help save your teen from the isolation and pain she feels. For more information on how to talk to your teen, check out “R U OK? Teen Depression and Suicide.”.
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.