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