Talking about suicide can be scary, even for adults.
But regardless of how uncomfortable it can be to talk about such a serious topic, it’s important that parents open up the conversation at home.
“A lot of parents think, ‘my kid is fine, there’s nothing to worry about’,” says Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, professional counsellor, Kids Help Phone. “Because no one is making the first step, kids may end up talking to their friends instead, either about their own suffering, or about the concerns they have about a friend.”
Young people who are being confided in this way also need support.
“Imagine the immense sense of responsibility these kids must be feeling,” Cheryl-Lynn says. “It’s important that we understand that these young people are often torn between keeping their friend’s problem a secret and seeking help for them. An environment where they feel safe sharing whatever is on their mind provides an opportunity for helping as needed.”
Mental health is increasingly being talked about as an issue affecting the lives of all children in Canada. Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world, and is among the leading causes of death in 15-24 year old Canadians, second only to accidents.
Cheryl-Lynn says it’s important that kids know they can talk to you about the tough stuff – even suicide.
“Some kids tell us they have amazing parents and just don’t want to worry them or upset them,” she says. “I try to explain to them that their parents’ job is to love, worry and nurture.”
Cheryl-Lynn emphasizes that it’s important that these conversations start happening early, “so that kids know they can come to you when a problem arises. Suicide is something that affects everyone. It has an impact on families, schools, and communities, and it’s something we have to talk about together.”
Cheryl-Lynn offers some tips on how to talk to your kids about suicide:
- Talk calmly about tough issues without making judgements. It lets your kids know that you are safe to talk to. Explicitly tell them that you’re open to talking about the really tough stuff, and that there’s nothing they could tell you that would damage the relationship irreparably
- If your child is worried about a friend who is talking about suicide, that they may not only feel a big responsibility towards that friend, but they may also be unsure of how to respond to their friend’s needs. Remind them that they are being a good friend by confiding in an adult; this is no time to keep a secret. “It is better to have their friend upset with them for a while but still be alive,” Cheryl-Lynn says.
- Dealing with a friend who is suicidal is very stressful. Remember that your child may need support, too. Let them know Kids Help Phone professional counsellors are always available at 1-800-668-6868.
- Be the one to initiate the conversation. Visit www.kidshelpphone.ca together to start talking about the tough stuff and start a discussion.
- Try not to judge. Whether your child is sharing their own suicidal thoughts, or is expressing worry about a friend, listen and reassure them that there is help.
- Young people are very sensitive to body language and facial expressions. If you are talking to them about suicide, be careful not to interrupt or express disappointment.
- If you suspect your child is in emotional distress or suicidal, ask them about it. It might not be easy, but it is important. It will help you assess the situation, and help your child feel less alone and make it easier for them to accept help.
- Hope is one of the most influential of all emotions. It gets us through stressful times and supports recovery. Remind your kid that there is hope, and that you are there to help. Kids Help Phone’s critical issue report “What’s hope got to do with it” offers tips and practical suggestions on being hope-centric
and “doing hope” with the young people in our lives.
- If your child is immediately suicidal, call 911. If your child has a plan to commit suicide do not leave the child alone. Make an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible for an assessment. If a doctor is unavailable, take your child to the Emergency room at your local hospital or call 911.
This is a Guest Post written and submitted to Multi-Testing Mommy by Kids Help Phone. Multi-Testing Mommy assumes no responsibility for how this information is used. If you are concerned about your child’s health and safety, please speak to your family doctor. See MTM’s Disclosure for more details.