In the wake of two major celebrity suicides this week, both left behind teenage daughters, and many parents are trying to figure out a way on how to talk to their children about depression and mental illness. With the news of fashion designer Kate Spade and travel journalist Anthony Bourdain both making headlines for their deaths, many parents are asking themselves the same question: how do you talk to children about suicide?
Health experts point out that many people who suffer from depression or mental illnesses show no signs or symptoms. Kate Spade’s husband Andy Spade said in a statement to the media, “Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
Now friends and family members of both celebrities are pleading for more suicide prevention and to open up more about the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses and health. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind while talking to your children about suicide or the loss of a loved one.
Keep It Simple And Factual
First and foremost, timing is everything. Pick the best time that you will fully have your child’s attention. It can either be a car ride to or from home, during a meal or right before their bedtime routine.
If necessary, think about what you want to say and prepare a script before hand. It’s also helpful if you have a research point. According to SPTSUSA, health experts suggest that you discuss factual information about suicide.
Some points to consider include:
* Suicide is a prominent public health concern. Nearly 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year.
*On average, 1 person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.
*Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and 2nd for 24 to 35-year-olds.
*Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people
The most common situations or life events that might cause suicidal thoughts are grief, sexual abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, a relationship breakup, and unemployment.
Comparing Mental Illness To Physical Illness
According to Psychology Today, psychologist Polly Dunn says that its best to let your child know that you are a person that they can talk to about tragedies, rather than someone who hides from them.
She explains, “Our thoughts and feelings come from our brain, and sometimes a person’s brain can get very sick – the sickness can cause a person to feel very badly inside. It also makes a person’s thoughts get all jumbled and mixed up, so sometimes they can’t think clearly. Some people can’t think of any other way of stopping the hurt they feel inside. They don’t understand that they don’t have to feel that way, that they can get help.”
Some signs to look out for include:
*Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
*Looking for a way to kill oneself.
*Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
*Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
Keep An Open Mind To Questions
Also, acknowledge any discomfort in the topic. You might start off by saying, “You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important,” or “What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, okay?”
Also, make sure to emphasize that suicide is as much of a risk as not wearing your seatbelt in a vehicle, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, or engaging in risky sexual behavior.
If your child is under 10 years old, keep in mind that he or she might not understand that suicide or death is permanent. A good rule of thumb is that if they are old enough to inquire, they are old enough to know more about it.
With older children, they tend to catastrophise problems in their lives, according to The Conversation. They might also have a difficult understanding of what is expected of them or what is available to help them.
Leave Out The Blame And Judgment
Many health experts urge parents to use caution when speaking to their children about suicide and above all, leave blame and judgment out of the dialogue. By correlating suicide with drug use or suggesting that keeping quiet might about mental illness might be a reason to blame for one’s suicide or suicide attempt for that matter.
Also, don’t overreact or underreact. If a parent overreacts, it might close off any future communication on the subject between the parent and child.
In addition, statistics show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual kids are three times more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Bullying is also a huge factor. Each time an LGBTQ person is a victim of physical or verbal harassment or abuse, they become at least twice more likely to hurt themselves.
If you know of someone or if you have suicidal thoughts yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.