Why didn’t I ask, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’

I wish I had asked charles this question. Why didn’t I?

One, because honestly, it didn’t occur to me to ask it.

Given the number of evaluations he had that indicated he was “high risk” I should have. But again, no one defined what that meant exactly and I am guilty of never asking for specific clarification. Fear of the answer?

If I had the opportunity for a replay how would I ask this question?

I am not a mental health professional and this blog post is a personal reflection on what I wish I had done

• If you are contemplating suicide, call 1-800-273-8255
• This Suicide conversation resource is from Australia but good info. I like the podcast
• If you want a pdf on how to talk about suicide, see this guide

This is the scenario that plays in my head.

Me: I care about you and I am worried about the fact you aren’t sleeping well. Have you ever thought about killing yourself or had thoughts about suicide?

Charles: Yes I have

Mom: Do you feel like killing yourself now?

I would then shut my mouth and let him talk, provided he wanted to. I would not pass judgment, gasp or otherwise go ballistic even though I might feel that way. I would listen.

I might interject a question now and again but let him own the conversation and just let him know I was listening.

Once he had finished talking, I would then tell Charles that if he died, no matter how it happened, I would be devastated. I would not ever be the same and I would mourn that loss for the rest of my life.

I would let him know from my words and my heart out loud that he was one of the most important people in the world to me. That the day he was born he had given my life meaning and purpose. I would not just have this conversation once. I’d have it multiple times.

I wouldn’t say it off hand.

I would sit him down and look him straight in the eye and tell him that.

I did have a conversation about suicide with him. But my failing is that I didn’t bring it up again. And again. And again.

I feel like if I had brought it up and talked about it at home as often and as frankly as I do here, it would have brought it in the light of day and diminished whatever shame and isolation resulted with these thoughts. I would have made an effort to let him know that I loved him unconditionally despite the darkness that crept into his soul. And I would do so more often.

unable-to-feel-the-loveHow would I have remained calm? Practice.

In this scenario, I would have talked to myself, practiced in my car over and over and over out loud to take the dread out of the question. Make it more natural. Less fearful.

I’d practice again in front of a friend because saying something over and over again takes the dread away. Or at least softens it.

In this scenario in my head, I am frank and straightforward.

The second reason I don’t think we ask is the insurmountable fear that this subject invokes. So maybe we don’t ask because we are afraid of the answer.

What do you do if your child has said this to you? Where do you go from there? Where do you turn for help? Is it imminent right now? Do you just make an appointment?

Ideally the earlier you ask this question the better. How early? I’m not sure. I’m not the expert. I’m just a mom who wishes for a do over so I can apply what I’ve learned. I would be a lot better prepared.

Charles did have a previous suicide attempt

I just didn’t know it to define it as such.

He told me about what he thought was a suicide attempt one time.

It was two weeks after the incident that he told me. He said he thought it was the depression medication he had tried.

He said he took a bunch of pills and right when he did it he was gripped in fear that he might die. He said he was surprised but glad he woke up the next morning although he felt terrible. He went to school that day and I knew nothing about it until he told me. .

He had been scared and unusually withdrawn for about 2 weeks. And I did ask.

In that two weeks, he had agonized over how it would make us feel if he died. He said he’d never do that again. So he was aware of that. I thought since he was aware of it, he would never do it. Like it was a revelation and he’d learned a lesson. He was 15 when this happened.

When he sat me down and told me this, I listened much like the scenario in my head. I didn’t panic.

My mistake was that I never broached the subject again

Being naive, I didn’t know that those feelings come back and that he had been struggling with depression.  He never admitted to depression. (The anti depressant was prescribed for his anxiety). Even then. He said he felt OK– better even since he told me. He said he could never do that to us.

I wrote this suicide attempt off too easily as a side effect of the medication and labeled that med in my files. I thought about it but was as unsure as Charles was what to call it.

I did mention this whenever I met with doctors with Charles but no one ever pressed the question or asked for more information. Why not? What if they had? So I’m telling you now. Push. Go with your intuition. I was brushed off multiple times by multiple professionals as being “paranoid.”

In one of his songs, he did mention that suicide attempt and his dad asked him point blank about it. He said it was just made up.

Charles has only one song that has a made up story. Some of his music illustrates a delusional state so not entirely rooted in reality. But the American Dream is the only one that is “made up,” being more of a compilation of stories he heard and took to heart over the years.

Most people suffering suicidal thoughts do want to talk about it

And talking about is proven not to be the thing that “gives them the idea.” People don’t ruminate about suicide because you asked them. In fact, you needn’t worry so much about saying the wrong thing as you need to worry about saying nothing at all.

Surprisingly, they often want to be stopped. (See the video below.) Not always.

Just like Charles said, once he took those pills, he wished he had not. And it pains me to think that once he had tied that t-shirt around his neck and let go, he wanted to live.

Just like the young man he saved at the Family School, I think he wanted someone to rescue him.

How many could we save simply by asking? By paying attention? My having the conversation?

I do know one of the passionate moms that follows this blog has this conversation with her son and she has a safe phrase–a phrase her son tells her when he is having feelings of suicide.

He feels comfortable at this point telling his mom by using this phrase they created. I don’t know if someone told her to do this or she intuitively figured it out. But I do think she is onto something. I do think it would be easier for him if there was more conversation on the subject outside their home which she can’t single handedly change.

The absolute fear of making this a natural conversation is paralyzing. Because losing a child is our greatest fear.

I would rather have lived with that fear than be in the shoes I am now. Ask the question. Because you just might not hear what you want to hear but you could end up with a better outcome than mine.

The video below is from a suicide survivor so you can see it from another point of view.

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Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my youngest son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

8 thoughts on “Why didn’t I ask, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’”

  1. Thank you for sharing real advice on this topic. I have looked for help with this so many places on the web and all I see are things like ‘encourage them to talk to a professional’ or ‘take any threat seriously’. Both of which are true but this addresses the real conversation that helps. How important it is to choke back the panic you have and make it safe for them to say their own scariest thoughts when you live in fear of being the person who says or does the thing that ‘pushes them over the edge’. Thank you for this post Anne Moss. And for all you are doing for all of us.

  2. OMG YES, we DO want to talk about it BUT we don’t want the stigma, the label. The 1000 questions that follow. We want to unload and move on. At least that’s the case for me, personally. I’ve thought about it SO many times. But now, luckily for me, I have 2 children that keep me from drifting over that edge. I wish, for you, your Charles would’ve had something to hang on to. Something to fill the emptiness when he closed his eyes at night, or there to fill his arms in the morning. I hate that for you. Sorry, I’m babbling and I don’t even know you. I only know what I hold on to. And, of course, the deep dark secrets in my head. Some days they consume me. Others, I can keep them at bay. Reading your blog about Charles has helped tremendously, I thank you for that. For opening up to complete strangers so that they may find a light in your darkness. ♡

  3. Another powerful blog, Anne Moss. When I was working as a hospice social worker I had to overcome my fear, my discomfort about talking with patients about suicide. It is something that understandably many patients thought about, considered. It is scary to have these open conversations but so incredibly important. As you said, our asking about suicidal thoughts and plans does not cause someone to take his or her life. In fact, that open, non-judgmental conversation can help break the isolation the suicidal person feels.

    This particular blog has the potential to save many lives, AM. Your words are so powerful. Please keep speaking for/about Charles. You are transforming peoples’ lives. ❤️

    1. Amy – Thank you for your insight on the hospice group. I would imagine if you are at end of life and suffering, you’d consider suicide. I admire that you forged ahead to get comfortable talking about it. I like this: “In fact, that open, non-judgmental conversation can help break the isolation the suicidal person feels.”

  4. AnneMoss you should really be working with mental health professionals. You have so much insight and can offer so much help! ❤️

  5. Your entry coupled with the suicide survivor’s video are so very powerful. I wish I had the words to comfort you. Just know we are listening and learning. And I am so terribly sorry for your pain. Thank you for helping so many.

    1. Just knowing these are shared and that I am reaching people is comfort. And thank you Leigh for being the first to share The last 48 hours. I didn’t know if that post had value or I was just bringing people down. But you saw the value and shared it first. I needed that push that day. I really did. Thank you for that.

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