GREENSBURG — Experts say parents who check in regularly with their child could have a life-saving conversation, because, according to national statistics, more than 2,000 children and teens are lost per year to suicide.
“A conversation about depression or suicide is going to be difficult, but you can have it without putting a young person at risk and it can be very helpful,” John Ackerman, PhD, clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said. “For the young person, having this discussion can be incredibly relieving. It is a powerful opportunity to understand that being emotionally open, especially about thoughts of suicide, can lead to healing and connection rather than shame and isolation.”
According to suicide prevention experts, asking a child directly about suicidal thoughts is usually the best thing a parent can do to help their child open up about their emotions. Even if their child is not struggling with suicide or depression, parents can model for their child that it is good to talk about serious emotional concerns with trusted adults and important to reach out to friends to have these conversations, too.
According to Dr. Ackerman, if your child’s friend tells them they are feeling suicidal, your child should tell their friend that they care about them and acknowledge that they are hurting. After their friend knows they are being listened to and supported, the next step is to ask specifically if they are thinking about suicide or have tried to kill themselves. This should be done in a compassionate way, free of judgement. If they say “yes” or even “I’m not sure,” a trusted adult should be told right away. Never leave someone alone if they are showing warning signs of suicide.
All current research suggests that there is usually not just one thing that compels someone to feel suicidal. In many cases, it is a combination of emotions and situations that lead to a person feeling like there is no other escape available. The normal feelings of pain, loneliness, rejection, guilt, depression, frustration and helplessness, among others, can deepen until a suicidal person is hurting so badly they just want the pain to end by any means necessary.
“This is a conversation that saves lives,” said Dr. Ackerman, who said his goal is to identify kids before they have a crisis or go years without treatment. Statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health indicate that half of mental health issues start by age 14.
North Decatur High School Guidance Counselor Barb Lecher said the number of children she sees daily threatening suicide are at an all time high.
“I’m not sure if it’s because they always have their phones in their hands and never take time for themselves, or if it’s because, with the whole world of knowledge at their fingertips, they never take time to unplug,’” she said. “I know our policy is always that when we hear a student threatening to kill themselves, we have to, as educators, call the parents and investigate. You never know if it’s just for attention or they’re very serious. I truly think that in this very busy world we live in, and with as hard as we push students to perform better, they simply don’t take time in the evenings to sit and take time to register everything that’s gone on in their day.”
Tips for parents and families in dealing with the threat of suicide include:
• Do not wait for a crisis. A good opportunity to talk about suicide or mental health issues is when things are going well.
• Check in regularly and ask your child directly how they are doing and if they have ever had thoughts about ending their life.
• Look for changes in mood or behavior that might be a warning sign that something is wrong. For example, if the child seems really down, they stop doing things they normally enjoy, or you notice significant changes in eating or sleeping.
Suicide in Adults
“One of the things I tell people all the time when I hear, ‘I don’t know anyone touched by suicide,’ is to remember the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. If you really think about it, I’m betting you’ll find someone you know touched by suicide within six people,” Decatur County chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Volunteer Melanie Maxwell said. “So many people don’t want to show weakness by asking for help, but it’s not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. It takes strength to recognize you’ve reached your limits and need help.”
Many young people who have attempted suicide have said that in the depths of their depression, it felt as if circumstances had always been that way and always would be. This leads to insurmountable feelings of hopelessness.
When one’s thoughts get so negative about themselves or their situation, it can be difficult to find a reason to live. They may begin to think that their problems are unsolvable or feel completely out of control. For many, the fear of the unknown is outweighed by the fear of living with their pain for the rest of their lives.
“Life is tough and it gets tougher every day,” Maxwell said. “There are so many stressors for young people in everyday life nowadays.”
Centerstone, a local mental health service provider, has a crisis line open 24 hours a day at 800-832-5442. Also, Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered confidential recovery program in Decatur County that is also willing to listen and offer assistance.
Contact Bill Rethlake at 812-663-3111, ext. 7011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org