Talking about problems really can reduce risk
Published 27/11/2012 | 05:00
IT is terrifying to hear about children and teenagers killing themselves. Most of us couldn't imagine what it might be like to be a family grieving a son or daughter who has committed suicide.
But as the news reminds us, distressingly frequently, children do think about suicide and act on those thoughts.
When our awareness is raised by tragic events we can overestimate the likely risks for our own children.
Consequently, any change in mood by a son or daughter can lead us to panic in fear they may harm themselves.
However, changes in mood and behaviour alone are not necessarily an indicator of suicidal thoughts.
Teenagers are a moody bunch at the best of times. But it is worth checking further if your child seems increasingly isolated, withdrawn or depressed. Similarly, increased abuse of alcohol or drugs are associated with higher risks of suicide.
Other things to look out for are youngsters who express suicidal thoughts, like "I'd rather be dead", or "its all worthless, there's no point in going on".
Many teenagers use expressions like these in a provocative manner and many parents don't know whether to take them seriously.
However, I am inclined to think of the tale of the "boy who cried wolf" – we should continue to take any threats seriously, even if they seem repetitive and manipulative.
Some youngsters also have a preoccupation with death.
You may see this reflected in their reading, their music and the comments they make. Be very wary of comments that seem to glorify death or suicide. Sometimes a preoccupation with death can be apparent when you look at a history of websites that they visit.
Be especially cautious if you become aware that your son or daughter seems to be 'tidying up their affairs', perhaps giving away CDs, books, jewellery or favoured clothes.
If your suspicions are aroused in any way, the most important first thing to do is talk to them.
Sometimes we can be reluctant to talk to teenagers about suicide in case we put them in mind of it, or make it more likely to happen.
However, your child may feel unable to talk about what they may believe is a taboo subject, unless we give them permission to do so by bringing it up.
In my experience, talking about suicide, and the deeper feelings that lead youngsters to contemplate it, actually reduces the likelihood and the risk.
It is actually very supportive for them to know that somebody seems to understand and acknowledges the seriousness of the feelings that they have.
The old adage of "a problem shared is a problem halved" applies to suicide and suicidal ideation just as it does to other emotional difficulties.
If you have real fears about your child after speaking with them, then act straight away to seek professional advice.