Talking to your child about suicide can feel scary, but it is essential and can be life-saving. Suicide is a public health crisis and occurs throughout the lifespan. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2018 suicide claimed the lives of 48,000 and was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.
One way we can prevent suicide is to start talking about it. Talk about it with your friends, family, spouses, and children. Many parents are wary about broaching such a serious topic. How do we talk about something so serious with someone who is so young, and still cognitively developing? Some parents feel as though if they talk about it with their children, they are exposing them to something that maybe the child will never know about or that if we talk about suicide, it can lead our children to suicide. After all, it is our responsibility as parents to protect our children from all the darkness. The reality is suicide can affect anyone. It can consume even our children, which is why we need to talk about it with our children. When we talk about suicide we are helping those dealing with thoughts of suicide understand that there is support and that they are not alone.
When Should I Talk to My Child?
If your child has been exposed to crisis and is traumatized, you should discuss with your child to give them a basic understanding of what has happened. The sooner we discuss the crisis with our child, the more we can help them to process their emotions and feelings and answer questions they may have. This also helps to eliminate them from obtaining misinformation, either from another person or social media.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents do not address tragedies to children under the age of eight years old unless the child has been exposed to suicide. For children younger than eight years of age, try your best to stick to the basics and encourage questions and feelings, accepting their reaction.
For children ages 8 to 11, explain to the child that the act was caused by an illness such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. Give them detail that they will understand. This is also the time to let them know that these illnesses are treatable, but in some cases, they can become fatal. Again, encourage any questions they have and always validate their feelings.
Older children usually have been exposed to suicide in some way or form. They may have heard it from other friends, TV shows, or even have known someone that knows some who attempted suicide. The older they are, the more direct you can be.
What Should I Say?
Whenever you decide to discuss suicide with your child, pick a place that is private and safe for your child. This helps them feel comfortable freely speaking about such a sensitive topic.
Keep it simple. Avoid using words that your child doesn’t understand and avoid details that may be too graphic.
Encourage questions. If you don’t know the answer, let them know that you don’t know, but that you can both figure it out together. When we are open and honest with our children, it strengthens their trust within us.
Answer your child’s questions without shame, judgment, or fear. Your feelings are valid, but if you’re angry, maybe it’s not the time to discuss it with your child. The act of suicide is often an attempt to control deep, painful emotions, not because they are selfish or weak. People who attempt or die from suicide are trying to end their suffering.
When speaking with teens, ask them what they already know about suicide. This way you can gather information and dispel any myths they may have heard.
Teach your child the best ways to help support their friends and themselves if they become suicidal. Always remind them that help is available, give them names and direct resources. Let them know that if they do not feel comfortable talking to you, they can talk to their other parent, aunt, uncle, school counselor – whoever else. Remember to validate their feelings, never telling them that they’re “overreacting.”
Always keep in mind that the best time to speak with your child about suicide is before they are in a crisis.
Suicide affects all people. It is not a brand or label, but a sign that an individual is suffering deeply and needs help. Many falsehoods can prevent individuals from receiving the help they need during these challenging times. The sooner we can discuss with our children the facts of suicide, the closer we are to breaking stigmas and debunking common myths associated with suicide. When this happens, we have a better chance at helping our children process and prevent their suicide. As a society, we should not be scared to speak up about suicide, mental health, or seeking treatment. It is time to work together to normalize talking about sensitive topics such as suicide. There are suicide hotlines, mental health support groups, and online resources available. Reach out to Achieve Medical Concierge today. We want to help you help yourself and your child during this difficult time. Call (858) 221-0344.