Parenting Through Tragedy

This week, a young life in my community died by suicide. The ripples of this tragedy have touched many lives and have left many parents feeling worried and vulnerable. Questions are being asked. “If this happened to him, how do I know that my kid is safe?”. “ My teen is away at school. How do I know he/ she is doing okay?”. “My teen is really upset by this. Could he/she also be feeling suicidal?”. “My young child came home with questions. What do I say?”

FIRST lesson......Don’t  Panic...

Because of our greater exposure to news and media, it can seem like youth suicide is becoming epidemic in Canada. We hear things like “suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth” . What we don’t hear is the reason for this shift in statistic.  Suicide ranks higher as a cause of death because other causes, such as accidents, have decreased significantly. From 1974-2009, mortality rates have dramatically decreased in the youth population. Suicide rates have remained fairly consistent. (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/chart/11696-02-chart6-eng.htm)

SECOND lesson....What can cause it?.....

(these factors may contribute to a persons decision) 

1. A pressure to succeed combined with the developmental inability to understand that difficult times will change

2. An overwhelming sense of hopelessness with a desire for the pain to stop

3.  A lack of connection with family, peers and/or school

4. Often, an history of “toxic socialization” ( instability, abuse, lack of nurturance during childhood) 

5. Cyber world pressures such as cyber bullying. 

6. A family member of close relative has attempted or died by suicide

THIRD lesson...What are some warning signs?...

1. Sudden behaviour or mood changes

2. Apathy, withdrawal

3. Depression or moodiness

4. Changes in sleep or eating habits

The difficulty with this list is that many of these “symptoms” mimic regular teenage angst. 

This brings us to the FOURTH lesson....What can I do?.... 

1. Communicate. Be direct. Talk to your kids about how they’re feeling. Check in with them. Ask them if they’ve ever had thoughts of suicide. Ask them if they’ve ever made a plan

-a suicidal person doesn’t necessarily want to end their life; they just want the pain to end. By opening the conversation, you can create a feeling of safety and relief. You can create space for hope

- try not to have strong reactions or make judgements about what you hear (keep the lines open)

2.  Check in and Lean in....Often. 

- adolescence is a time when our kids are finding themselves and their independence. They need room to do this BUT, it’s important that they know you’re there and that they know you care

3. If there is an immediate risk, call 911. 

4. Answer questions with honesty.  

This is an opportunity to start conversations about resilience and change. Talk to your kids about times that life can feel really sad or overwhelming. Help them explore strategies about what they can do at those times. For example, can they use mindfulness strategies? Would it help to speak with someone? Do they have healthy outlets for stress? What hobbies and habits do they have that give them satisfaction?  Help them feel empowered to do what they need to feel stronger.

5. Be predictive

As adults, we have the life experience to predict how events and stressors may effect people. Our children may not yet have that ability. Be aware. Send extra “love vibes” at times that you can predict that your child may be more vulnerable.  Ours teens won’t always tell us that they need us ( that just isn’t cool). It’s our job to make those connections. Sending a care package; having a lunch date; sending a love text....all of these acts can remind our teens that they have people who care.

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Karen Patterson

Muskoka Family Works, 55 Main Street West, Huntsville, ON, P1H 1W9