I have several articles out on the web on both this site and The Mighty to capture young people who are googling certain questions related to mental illness, drug use, cutting, and suicide. No one in their lives is answering or addressing the issue, so they look on the internet to ask Dr. Google.
One of those articles is, “How to tell your parents you want to die?” We are always telling people to call a number or “reach out for help” but rarely to we give specific instructions on how to do so.
Now that there are over 50 comments from youth, hundreds more on other articles, I’ve picked up on some reoccurring themes on why kids don’t tell parents or another adult that they struggle with though of suicide. Here are some of their fears of telling.
1. Most all of them that age are frightened by these thoughts. They are petrified and desperate to tell someone but struggle with the how and getting the nerve up to tell someone, especially a parent. The anonymity of the web allows them to practice telling without identifying themselves.
2. Most of the kids say that a parent didn’t believe them and dismissed their confession with the “you just want attention” answer. How does someone get help if they don’t ask for attention? And why do we make that such a negative thing? The ones who have not heard that phrase, fear that a parent will say the attention phrase.
3. The other theme is that kids fear their parents will no longer be proud of them. That parental pride is the one thing they don’t want to let go of and they fear a confession will erode that.
4. They fear a parent won’t believe them. Once someone has confessed the deepest, darkest, ugliest feelings in their soul, they want to be taken seriously and not doubted. What’s more, they fear what will happen after they tell. Will they be in the ER for days on end, loaded in the back of an ambulance for all to see, forced to take medication, and made to feel like they have no say or agency for their own mental health. So be sure to ask why someone doesn’t want to do something. Address their fears with empathy and most of all listen without offering solutions. They want to be heard!
5. They fear whomever they tell will think they are weak . They don’t realize that surviving these thoughts of suicide is a huge act of courage. They feel intense shame for them and need someone who will listen and empathize.
6. They are afraid a parent will freak out. Or send them to the hospital. That’s an understandable fear. Most parents feel dread when they hear it and probably a big reason some don’t believe a child. Because we feel that our kids have had a reasonably good life, how could things be so bad they’d kill themselves? As a parent, it would be a struggle for my mind to go there.
Loss of a child is our greatest fear, and we’ll go through a catalog of reasons why we are hearing what we are hearing and often land on denial. That’s only natural and one reason I suggest kids write a letter because the face-to-face can be difficult for both parties. The truth is, we just want them to tell. And going to a hospital is not always the default option and should be the last resort.
Now that you know what they fear, perhaps it will help you manage the conversation and help you understand what might be stopping someone from telling about thoughts of suicide. Or maybe it will help you better understand why a loved one who died by suicide didn’t tell you. There are other fears such as a fear of being hospitalized, being visited by police or that they are of no value but these six are what I hear most often when they are looking up how to tell a parent.
With adults there are slightly different themes but many of these are also reasons adults give, too.
- ‘My son has admitted he is suicidal. What do I do now?’Your child said he is suicidal: Say this, not that (quick easy guide)
- Two scripts on how a parent can ask a child about suicide
- How one teen described his suicidal episode
- So why do kids not tell parents they are suicidal? Quotes from real kids
- So why do kids not tell parents they are suicidal? Quotes from real kids.
- He promised not to attempt suicide again
- They said they’re thinking of suicide? What now?
- Living in fear of the next crisis
- To those who think, ‘I’m not qualified to talk to someone who is suicidal’
- A friend posted a message online that sounds suicidal. What do you do or say?
- Suicide Resources Page