Suicide is not a topic that is easy to talk about. The word itself remains somewhat taboo in many families and cultures. Yet, more young people are dying of suicide than ever before, making suicide a public health crisis that warrants education, attention and open conversation.
What can a caring adult do for a young person who may be suicidal? First, ask the question. Often, just being asked the question in a caring, non-judgmental fashion can diffuse distress and thoughts of suicide. It is easy, when faced with difficult conversations surrounding uncomfortable topics, for adults to make comments like, “You don’t really mean that,” or “you have to be tough.” Instead, try more empathetic responses that may sound more like, “I understand, sometimes being your age was really hard for me too,” or simply, “Please tell me more about that, I want to really know what you’re feeling.”
Be prepared to seek professional help. Part of the taboo surrounding suicide is a belief that thoughts of suicide are shameful, therefore seeking help may feel shameful. On the contrary, most people will have some (even if fleeting) thoughts of suicide in their lifetime. Asking for help from a trained professional is a brave, protective and loving response when adults hear that a young person may be suffering. Be persistent in asking for help. It can take a try or two to find the trained professional that is best suited for each individual. If one helping professional isn’t the right fit, try another. Parents of school-aged children can connect with school counselors and social workers to find referral resources in the community.
Say yes! Adolescence is a tumultuous time, and it is easy to get caught in a cycle of arguing and power struggles with teens that don’t feel good to either them or the adults who love them. Adults, pick your battles. Parents, know what the firm rules and boundaries are for your child, and spend the rest of your time focusing on connection, play, fun and the positive. A struggling child can be reassured that they won’t feel bad forever by experiencing some glimmers of fun, caring and positive experiences. What would happen if the parent of a young teenager took one week to say “Yes” as often as possible? “Yes, you can have a friend stay the night.” “Yes, we can order pizza for dinner.” “Yes, I will set work aside and listen to you right now with my undivided attention.” “Yes” can be a powerful transformer in the child-adult relationship!
Be involved with children’s school and friends. Even when children act disinterested, or straight up annoyed with parental questions into their social and school lives, showing interest sends a message to children that they matter. Pay attention to trends among young peer groups. Intervene when necessary and never hesitate to ask for help from the school. We would all do well to move in the direction of “it takes a village to raise a child”, our children most of al
Tips for teens that come from the National Association of School Psychologists include help seeking from adults. Should a friend or peer hear that someone is contemplating suicide, they should not promise to keep that a secret. Young people should never promise that they won’t tell, rather they should find a safe adult and enlist their help as soon as possible. The QPR Institute teaches that almost all caring efforts to help someone who is struggling are met with agreement and relief, so teens should feel confident that listening with kindness and then asking adult for help is the best thing to do.
Don’t hesitate to take emergency action. Any adult who suspects an imminent threat to a child should call 911. For additional support related to mental health or suicide, please call the New Mexico Crisis Access Line at 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474).
Amy Himelright is the Director of Mental Health and Academic Counseling at Las Cruces Public Schools.