David Coleman: What to do if your child might be thinking about suicide
Discovering your child or teenager may be contemplating suicide is a shocking experience.
If that discovery comes about because they choose to tell you, then they are taking a very brave first step to dealing with the distressing nature of their thoughts and feelings.
If the discovery occurs because someone else in their social circle, or their school, or your extended family tells you, then they may be upset when they find out that you know.
However, this knowledge is a crucial first step to being able to help and support your son or daughter. So, no matter the way that you discover, be glad that you now have an opportunity to help.
Here are six key things you might want to do if you are concerned that your child is thinking about suicide:
1. Be aware of significant changes to your child’s mood or behaviour
If your child expresses significant hopelessness, sadness and anger, then be alert to the fact that something may be happening at home or in their wider environment that is really distressing them.
Depending on the level of distress they express, suicide might be an option they are considering to try to deal with the situation or the depth of their feelings.
2. As well as talking directly to your son or daughter, use any extra information you can glean from their friends, teachers, their postings on social networks, internet search histories and so on, to try to understand the level of distress they are feeling and what they may be considering to deal with that distress.
Be warm and understanding, avoiding judgment or criticism, and use empathy statements to help your child to tell you how they have been feeling.
3. Be brave in voicing your own concerns about possible suicidal thoughts they may have, or any plans they may have, about killing themselves.
It is totally OK to say something like, “I notice you have been really upset lately, avoiding all of us, and spending long times on your own. I guess you are really distressed about something. If the distress is very bad, you might have thought about hurting yourself or killing yourself. Have you thought about suicide?”
Asking directly about suicide makes it more likely your child will tell you if this is, in fact, something that is on their mind. All of the research says that talking openly and supportively with children about suicide reduces the risk of them actually killing themselves.
So, don’t be shy about talking about this.
4. Explore with your child any plans they may have made, any thoughts they have had, or any actions they have ever taken.
The more planning they have done, and the more things they have prepared, the greater the risk might be that they will follow through.
Offer your support, your understanding and that you will work with them to try to help. Take any immediate steps to prevent them from carrying through any plans (like removing pills, sharp knives, etc.)
Your goal is to keep them physically safe while you get the help your family needs. Do explain you will also get help from others who understand.
5. Contact your GP in the first instance. Ask your GP for an emergency referral to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
Ask them to explicitly state in the referral that your child is thinking about, or has tried, killing themselves. Do reach out for professional help and support.
6. The topic of suicide might be very distressing or frightening for you, so it will be important you try to regulate your own emotions enough so you can listen carefully, and empathetically, to what your child is saying.
Do rely on your own supports from family and friends, to be able to mind yourself.
If you have been affected by the issues above contact:
Samaritans: 116 123
Pieta House: 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 5144
Bodywhys: 1890 200444
Childline: 1800 666666 or text TALK to 50101