Suicide is an epidemic that has been impacting our nation and community. It’s important to take some time to touch on this difficult topic. A big part of this is learning to be intentional about noticing things in your children and feeling comfortable having conversations with them about these things. It often feels difficult or uncomfortable to do this, but talking and creating an open environment really is the most important thing you can do to keep your child safe.
Before we launch into what some of the warning signs of suicide are, it’s crucial to take some time to explain that no one thing leads to someone wanting to take their own life. It is usually many things at once that have added up to make someone consider suicide. I say this to reduce any guilt that might be felt by reading these. It is also true that many are very good at covering up symptoms or emotions and that can also make it very difficult to notice.
Some warning signs to pay attention to are a change in appearance or affect. This means that if your child or someone else usually gets up in the morning and showers and puts makeup on and suddenly, they stop doing that for a significant period. This would be the time to check in on how they are feeling. In the same vein, if your child usually has a happy/joyful demeanor and lately they have seemed “down,” a conversation should take place. If your child has started to lose interest in something they used to love (ex. a sport, hobby, etc), it’s time to check in. If your child seems tearful or hopeless or reports feeling “like a burden,” pay attention. If your child is sleeping significantly more or less than normal, ask them about it. Basically, we are looking for significant changes in patterns of behavior. The goal here, again, is just to have some conversation starters and to let your child know that you are paying attention and that you care.
The following are some risk factors associated with suicide: a mental health diagnosis, family history of mental health issues, a significant life event (a death of a loved one, parental divorce, a breakup), exposure to suicide by a family member, friend, or someone in the community, bullying, a history of abuse, and access to lethal means. This is another reminder that no one thing leads to suicide. If any of these are involved in your child’s life, it may have had an effect on them and a conversation could be really helpful.
Now that we have helpful information about how to know if your child is at risk for suicidal ideation, we can dive into how to support your child. First, to stay on message, conversations and open relationships are everything when it comes to this. If you are intentional about checking in, asking open ended questions, and making sure your child knows you are there if they need to talk, you are doing a phenomenal job. I’ll add to that though that teaching your child coping skills is also extremely helpful. Some of these coping skills might include: planning ahead, taking a break, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, calling a friend, doing some deep breathing, journaling, etc. The more you can model these healthy coping skills to them, the better they will be at incorporating them in their own lives.
To sum this up,
Notice changes in patterns of behavior
Acknowledge them to your child
Attempt to have a conversation about it
Model/teach coping skills as early as possible
Tell your child that you care about them
Georgia Crisis Line: 1-800-715-4225
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
Summit Counseling Center: 678-893-5300
More information: Screenings for Mental Health & CDC.gov