In our world today, it seems our children, no matter the town, state, education, family unit, socioeconomic background, ethnicity or religion are grappling with complex, confounding and complicated issues not even fit for a middle-aged adult. Sadly, one of these issues is suicide. With mental health gaining more attention, the stigma appears to be dissipating but when a mental health tragedy strikes in small, tucked away, towns across America, like our community, it shakes us to the core. 

As our children grow up, we begin to understand that regardless of our diligence, despite our best efforts in shielding them from experiencing any kind of pain, we don't always succeed. We can't always succeed. More so, their pain is our pain whether it's a skinned knee or a broken heart. 

As adults we struggle to understand, to cope, to grieve. Despite the growing conversations surrounding mental health it can often be an uncomfortable subject matter -- ones that adults don't necessarily feel confident or equipped to navigate with one another. Mental health professionals are extensively educated about "do's and don’ts" when addressing and discussing suicide -- and yet, we humanly struggle with it. So how are our children doing so?

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How do they know when common lexicons such as, "kill me" or "OMG, I want to die" are just that or cries for help? With the term depression tossed around so casually nowadays, how can they tell if their friends are just describing a common fickle, fleeting emotion or if they're truly depressed because of mental illness? 

We can encourage our children to open a conversation about depression and suicide with one another. It's important to understand that much like everything in life, the following isn't always applicable to every person and every situation. Additionally, it's important that I stress that by no means am I suggesting that had the following been discussed, the tragic loss of such an innocent, young heart could have been prevented- the only rule to suicide is that there is always an exception.

The following bullet points were taken directly from the National Suicide Prevention Course.

  • Though it seems to the contrary, asking about suicide directly is most effective most times. Talking about suicide does not create or increase risk- in fact, it reduces the risk. 
  • According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, teenagers and young adults (aged 13-34) who nearly died in a suicide attempt were asked how much time passed between the moment they decided on suicide and the attempt- 25% stated it took less than 5 minutes.  
  • Often acute suicide phases are followed by triggering events that can lead to humiliation or despair such as a bullying, a breakup, or a family disagreement.  The CDC found that 1 in 3 youth suicides followed within 24 hours of a crisis like an arrest, family argument or relationship break-up. 

Though rattling to think that suicide can be so impulsive among teens, it does suggest that for some, acute suicide phases are brief which means that a form of distraction may be enough to deter a suicide attempt. 

It may be jarring to read or even say aloud, but you or your teen can practice asking direct questions like: 

  • Sometimes when people go through that kind of situation, they think about killing themselves. Have you had thoughts like that? 
  • Even open, direct conversations don't always yield a truthful answer, especially with teens...as most of us know all too well. “Yes” can mean no and “No” can mean yes and maybe can mean just that. So you may want to ask a follow up question like, “Do you often think you or your loved ones would be better off if you were dead?”
  • Tell me about a time where you felt the absolute worst -- a time you may have felt hopeless, sad or angry. How did you handle those emotions? 
  • By asking this, you will learn something about the person's triggers and coping strategies. 
  • Do you think about how you would commit suicide? (Do you have a plan?)
  • It's important to note that not having a plan doesn't necessarily mean that the person you are concerned about isn't in fact suicidal- a good portion of attempted suicides don't follow a plan. 
  • Have you ever attempted suicide? 
  • Suicidal feelings are often episodic, sometimes lasting less than an hour. By the time you may be speaking to them, he or she may not feel suicidal, but after the next big setback, that person may spiral back to a suicidal state. 

If you or your teen find concerning answers, it's important to get medical attention right away. You can do this by simply dialing 9-1-1 or by calling a free resource like, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.