This is for those of you have told a parent and met with a blank look and inaction. Or one that said something inappropriate to your soulful and brave confession.
Some of you who have struggled with thoughts of suicide have left clues you think are so obvious, they are flashing neon signs. Young people have told me they’ve left their computers open with searches about suicide hoping the parent takes the hint. Others have told a parent outright and the response is really unresponsive and flat.
Don’t translate that to mean we don’t care when you don’t get the reaction you expected. It’s not that. It’s not because one or both of your parents is a bad person. Keep reading so you understand what is going on in your parent’s brains.
Ninety-nine percent of us parents will miss clues, no matter how obvious. We just can’t fathom that life would be so bad for you, you’d want to take your life. Since we don’t have a space for this in our heads, we dismiss it. For one thing, most parents forget what being a young person was like. Another reason is that we think we have done a reasonably good job of raising you. I mean you have food and a roof over your head and more than that, you have our love. (Not in all cases, of course.) Parents think, “What could be so bad?”
Here’s the thing, to us as parents, it will always be shocking. No matter how many times we’ve heard it or how many attempts we know about.
Because to us, we don’t believe it will really happen to us. That happens to other families–ones who don’t love their kids or who abuse them. We don’t think it could happen to us because you love us so much, or we love you so much. This does reflect our own ignorance of what it’s like for those who live with thoughts of suicide. They don’t understand the brain chemistry that triggers these thoughts. I also think it’s something family members and friends tell themselves so they don’t worry to death that you’ll die by suicide. Does that make sense?
Some parents overreact by sleeping next to you in a sleeping bag. Others dismiss it as something that can’t possibly happen.
When some parents hear it, they are so overwhelmed about what to do, they freeze and somewhere in their heads they think, “They’ll get over it. Kids are resilient.” Or a parent says something even worse like, “Oh you’re just trying to get attention.” Like how else would you get help if you weren’t asking for attention which, by the way, is not a sin but an act of courage?
It’s brave to tell. And a good idea because when it’s locked up in your head it starts to grow and get worse.
I’m not guilting those of you who struggle because it’s not like you are planning to do this because of us. That brain pain exists. It’s real. And it’s probably scaring you and making you worry.
What it comes down to is that parents don’t get what you are going through, and you underestimate the impact if you do suicide. So there is a gross misunderstanding on both sides because no one is talking about it and everyone is assuming.
That’s why when you do tell, you have to be very straightforward and you have to say you are thinking of suicide and then tell them you need help and that starts with an assessment to measure the risk and then usually an evaluation to see what the cause might be. Which could be anything from depression to a head injury. You see, parents often don’t even know what to do. They usually figure it out even if they are kind of stunned at first.
After my son’s first attempt, I thought, “Wow. I’m so glad that he didn’t die.” And for some reason, I thought he was over whatever it was which meant we were out of danger. I did ask but in 2015, even a psychiatrist wouldn’t answer my questions about suicide. Thank goodness that has changed. But I did lose my son, Charles, to suicide and I know he wanted to tell.
If you think your parents are the type to say “pray on it,” they are not the right people to tell. Again, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. In that case, tell a teacher, coach, or school counselor. Some other trusted adult is a better choice. If you tell a friend you can go to another adult and tell them together. Because that information sounds more legitimate coming from another adult and they often take it seriously because someone else is.
You don’t have to live with these thoughts all alone. You can get help. It can be treated and things can improve. But if your parent has not taken it seriously or they’ve said something entirely inappropriate, you need to tell someone else. The article below will help you choose the right person.
USA Crisis Text 741-741
US Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth 1-866-488-7386
US Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline 1-833-456-4566
United Kingdom Samaritans 116 123
Australia Crisis Line 13 11 14
Canada Crisis Line 1-833-456-4566
Canada TransLifeline 877-330-6366
International suicide hotlines