Thursday, September 10, 2015 is World Suicide Prevention Day. This is an initiative held on the same day each year by the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization. Their goal is to raise awareness that suicide is preventable, and to improve education about suicide to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
From press release on World Suicide Prevention Day:
"September is Suicide Awareness Month, and Facebook’s Help a Friend in Need guide contains many valuable resources available to Canadians.
Launched last year with Kids Help Phone and long-time TSN host and mental health advocate Michael Landsberg, Help a Friend in Need provides simple, practical tips to youth ages 15-20 for identifying potential warning signs in online behavior that a friend may be thinking of suicide.
Online sites like Facebook are extremely relevant to the current conversation around suicide prevention, because it’s often the place people go to express their emotions and put out a cry for help – and where, tragically, we discover the signs too late."
Suicide is the second highest cause of death for teenagers in Canada. Most of the teens that have committed suicide had a diagnosable mental health illness, like depression and anxiety, or had substance abuse issues.
Parents have a critical role in suicide prevention. As suicide most often happens when a person is overwhelmed by emotions and does not feel their life will get better, teaching parents some important concepts can greatly reduce the chance of their child feeling her life is not worth living. There are several risk and protective factors outlined in this brochure. I strongly suggest taking the time to read through these to understand the biophysical, socio-economic, and environmental factors that parents can mitigate.
In this article, I will focus on the relationship factors that parents have the greatest impact on. Parents can help lower suicide risk by paying attention to the following:
In young children. Learning about emotional awareness and how to offload intense feelings is important for parents and their children to help promote good mental health. As a psychotherapist and parenting educator, I see how often our generation of parents struggle with this personally, not having learned our own “affect management.” This term refers to the processing of strong feelings in a safe and caring way (without hurting ourselves or another).
This is a concept that requires more information than I can provide here, so I will recommend the book PEACEFUL PARENT, HAPPY KIDS by Laura Markham, PhD for learning more about how to coach ourselves and our children through intense feelings.
In school-aged children. As children grow, the complexity of their life and stressors also grow. Parents can help by having a keen eye on their children, and using empathetic open-ended questions to learn more about how their child is really doing. Kids at this age will still open up and share their hearts, so it is very important that parents take exceptional care of that heart. Any judgment or invalidation when your child shares a feeling, can teach that child that coming to you hurts, rather than helps. Be a shoulder to cry on and an ear to hear.
In teens. The teen years are fraught with issues stemming from poor self-esteem, feeling different, hormonal influences, trying to become independent, and the complexity of managing people both in person and online with potentially immature communication skills. Connecting with your teen, and continually being there for him/her significantly helps reduce suicide risk. Teens need your help and guidance, but they also need to know that when (not if) they make mistakes, you will not “kill them” but rather be rational and a good problem solver. If you would like some help in that department, I suggest reading this article I wrote earlier about connecting with your teen. Become an expert of your teen. Have a keen eye for when her mood changes, or when she is struggling.
For all ages. Children have unique, lovely personalities trying to shine through. When a child feels completely heard by her parent, she will continue to open up and risk speaking her truth. If a child loses trust in her own parents, and feels they are not a source of strength and reason for her, she might turn to her peers or become isolated. Keeping a child’s heart open is a significant suicide prevention tools.
The final factor for parents to consider in helping suicide-proof children at any age is what form of discipline is used. Parents need to use alternatives to harsh discipline to facilitate the growth of empathy and emotional regulation skills in their kids. A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal put a spotlight on understanding that harsh verbal discipline (shouting/ yelling) does as much damage to a child’s development as hitting does. When a parent continually scolds a child, is hard on them, or hits them, that child has a low chance of learning how to manage big emotions — because the parent is not demonstrating that he is able to do that himself. I recommend the book IF I HAVE TO TELL YOU ONE MORE TIME… by Amy McCready to learn alternatives to harsh discipline.
I continually post free parenting resources such as the ones listed in this article on my Facebook page, if you would like more information. In addition to the links above, here are some suicide information/ prevention links that I strongly suggest keeping saved and reading in order to protect your children:
More Suicide Resources on many topics from SuicidePrevention.ca
This Thursday September 10th at 8pm, light a candle and place it near a window to honour someone who has taken their life or survived a suicide attempt. I will be lighting my candle for Lisa Gibson.
Photo from iStock.com