Dear parents who think their child is just looking for attention

Your child had just told you they have thoughts of killing themselves. And your first reaction is to think all this is teen or young adult drama and you say, “You’re just trying to get attention.”

Please take it seriously when your son or daughter tells you they want to die and realize the courage it took to reveal the deepest darkest secret in their soul.

If you felt this way, would you find it easy to tell someone? Wouldn’t these thoughts scare you? A young man who is seventeen and suffers from thoughts of suicide told me recently, “It’s so hard to tell because it’s like I am giving away the last piece of myself.”

Some young adults tell me it’s difficult to shock their parents with the news they’ve had thoughts of suicide when all they want to do is make them proud. Still, others tell me they fear they will look weak and that telling someone about thoughts of suicide means they won’t be loved anymore.

These fears are real and I hear them over and over from young people and adults, too.

If you are fortunate to have a child tell you they want to die before they die, be grateful. Because I didn’t get that chance. I found out about how much my son suffered only after his suicide when there was nothing I could do about it.

Please don’t tell them they have so much to live for. Or that they are crazy to have such thoughts.

Instead, thank them for their courage. For telling you and trusting you with this information.

Ask them to tell you more. And then be quiet and just listen to your child. Don’t judge or lecture. Then tell your child that together, you can find help and support.

Suicidal thoughts are what I call a “brain attack,” a state of mind where the person suffering thoughts of suicide suffers intense emotional and sometimes physical pain. In that moment, the person thinks the only way out is to kill themselves. They have pervasive thoughts that the world would be better off without them. This can happen to anyone.

Those who have suffered trauma, live with a mental health condition like bipolar or depression, misuse substances, or have substance use disorder, can be more at risk. Emotionally overwhelming life circumstances can make someone more vulnerable to feeling worthless or a burden. Breakups, fights with friends or loved ones, life transitions, and more can all come together like a perfect storm and push vulnerable individuals toward suicide. In short, feelings of suicide can happen to anyone.

There is the temptation by those of us hearing a confession to put it off, hoping it will go away or get better because we don’t know what to do or feel this burden has been thrown in our lap. You might dismiss it as the result of a bad day or a bad breakup. But it doesn’t work that way. And it can be treated. These thoughts can come back which is why it’s important to treat the issue right away.

Understand that you might have preconceived notions about suicide but you’re not an expert and you can’t fix this. You can, however, find someone who can help.

You can start by calling a county crisis resource (USA) and getting a suicide risk assessment and a safety plan. Usually, they will offer the next steps like an appointment with a mental health professional. If it’s a school-age child, talk to the school counselor if there is one. Unless it’s acute and they need help right then in which case you may need to take them to a hospital. But this can be traumatizing, too, so if there is a psych hospital that does emergency evaluations, that might be the best option.

Thank you,

Love a mom who’d have given anything if my son told me about his thoughts of suicide

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

4 thoughts on “Dear parents who think their child is just looking for attention”

  1. What adults and friends need to be able to help are some suggestions for appropriate responses. “Thank you for having the courage to tell us is a good start” but what do we say when it comes up repeatedly? Understandably “You have a lot to live for” doesn’t work as most have thought this through and can’s see forward enough. How do we emotionally connect with continuously depressed individuals without saying the same things over and over?

    1. That is a hard and one I have faced. I usually start to ask questions. I love that you are open on this topic and I wish I could fix it. Let me ask you this,
      how do you think you can help yourself? I have also asked, “Are you willing to write about your experience? Are you willing to write about it to help others?” So I feel around by asking questions. I want to trigger their ability to problem solve–get those wheels turning.

      When I’ve worked with a teen that is so negative over a long period, I find I can only nudge them slightly by asking questions. I’ll be honest that I think I’m getting nowhere then all of a sudden, I will hear back months later and they are in a support group. Usually exploring with questions over time (this takes a lot of listening and a lot of patience) helps them find something that is part of their process of finding stability. The questions you ask depends on the person.

      While this doesn’t exactly answer things directly, reading this and practicing it helped me start to learn to help them start to solve issues and not lecture or tell others what to do. There has to be some incentive on their part to get better and the questions approach starts to foster that. https://annemoss.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/EbookMotivatingVer3.pdf

      So some of the questions I have asked. Do you want to get better? What do you think that would take? If you could do one thing every day that would have a positive impact, what would it be? How can I help you find something that offers you relief? Do you feel being around others helps you? What is your opinion on social media and how it makes you feel?

      Another tactic is stories. I tell stories of what has helped me. So I don’t say, “Why don’t you try…..” Instead I tell them something that worked for me. For instance, thinking of one thing I am grateful for helps me start my day after my son’s suicide. Because despite this awful thing that happened to me, I still have things to be thankful for. I think as I get into Preventure training especially with the negative thinkers, I’ll get better at this. I know motivational interviewing is a tactic people have used and I plan to get trained on that this year.

      I hope that helps. But those repeated situations are the hardest. I also answer comments differently on this page even though many of them are saying similar things https://annemoss.com/2017/04/08/how-to-hang-yourself/ I sort of read what they are saying and try to fashion a response based on that.

      Thank you for asking the question. It’s a good one.

  2. Anne Moss – the “health professionals” Whitten saw were abysmal. When he first told Chip he thought something was wrong at 16, we took him to a doctor who didn’t pay much attention to him and made him feel like he didn’t have big problems. For a short time, he actually did start cutting himself, seeking attention from the doctor, so he would be taken seriously.

    1. I have lots of examples of mistreatment by those who were supposed to help. We ran into similar issues. Unless you have been through the system you can’t know how appalling it is. And that makes me so sad about whiten. He wanted help and didn’t get it from our mental health system. I think in both our cases our early intervention attempts could have saved our sons if there had been reliable resources.

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