A suicide threat is probably one of my least favorite parts of therapy practice. How do you know when to take these threats seriously and when can you chalk it up to teenage melodrama? As much I would like to give you an easy answer, this one is just plain complicated. And, unfortunately, actual completed suicides seem to be on the rise and also more public.
You might remember the news about this Florida foster child that streamed her suicide live on Facebook this year. And if that wasn’t scary enough, there was this 12 year old child from Georgia with a similar story. And it’s not just teens and pre-teens. A shockingly sad story was reported this month about this 8 year old boy in Ohio that committed suicide, allegedly due to being bullied at school.
Think it’s just media hype? You’re wrong. Suicide is on the rise.
The Parent Resource Center at the Jason Foundation reports that:
I don’t know if those figures mean anything to you, but they scare me. A lot.
There is this idea that if we talk about suicide with kids, it will encourage them to follow through. The opposite is true. In fact, if your child appears depressed or if they come out and say that they are suicidal, then you need to talk about it a lot. Dismissing it or telling your child “don’t talk like that” will not make the problem go away.
Validating your child’s feelings and showing that you understand their feelings is a crucial step in helping a child that expresses thoughts of suicide. Start your sentences with “I understand” or “You are feeling sad because…”
Avoid sentences that start with “Don’t” or “All you need to do is…” or “You should.”
While this list is not exhaustive by any means, it does start to get you thinking about the fact that really, ANYTHING, can become a risk factor for kids. It becomes really scary (like reading your cold symptoms on the Internet makes you worried you have cancer) because your child might meet several criteria from this list. So, what can you do?
If you are concerned that your child is depressed, get help. Even if they deny having any thoughts of suicide, therapy is still going to help increase support for your child (and you). If you think your child is even remotely serious, get help! Seek emergency services if necessary to ensure their safety.
There are tons of national resources. If you do a quick Google search, you will find pages of resources designed to help you through this.
1-800-273-TALK (8255) – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Suicide Prevention Therapist Finder (SPTF): https://www.HelpPRO.com/SPTF
Wherever you live, there are also local resources. Your hospital emergency room is a place to go if you have no other options. But, there are also mental health hospitals that you can go directly to for an evaluation. You can call 911 and allow a police officer to conduct a brief evaluation and that officer can request additional services. Memphis has a local crisis line and a Mobile Crisis Unit.
This is an impossible topic to cover in a short blog post. If you take away anything from this message it is this:
If a child makes a suicidal threat ‘for attention’
Even if you think it is just “for attention”, the risk of ignoring your child is too high. Get support. Get help. Sometimes, attention is the best medicine!
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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