October was Suicide Awareness month… I’m 15 days late, but felt like this would be a good topic for a blog post. I know it’s not a fun topic to think about, but I believe every parent can benefit from knowing what to do if (just in case) their child says they are thinking about self-harm or suicide (or attempting either).
First and most importantly… ASSESS FOR SAFETY. Do not leave your child unsupervised unless you know they are safe. If you feel like your child needs help right away, get help immediately! Call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Your child may need to be taken to and admitted to an inpatient behavioral hospital – I know that sounds scary, but if they don’t get the help they need, the result could be devastating. Always err on the side of caution.
If you believe your child is not in immediate danger, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on them and remove anything they may use to harm themselves (think razors, medications, knives, any firearms in the home, etc.). They would also benefit from talking to a professional, whether it’s a therapist (sometimes referred to as counselors or mental health practitioners) or a psychologist. A professional will be able to help your kiddo figure out why they’re feeling this way and what they can do to feel better. A professional will also likely be able to work with you, as a parent, to discuss what specifically you can do for your child.
Here’s some other things to keep in mind.
- It’s important for parents to remain calm (at least on the outside). The last thing you want is for your response to make your child feel like they cannot talk to you about these tough topics. Even though it’s uncomfortable, you WANT your child to be able to come to you to discuss self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If they feel like they can’t talk to you, you won’t know about it and you won’t be able to help. Thank them for telling you, empathize with them, and let them know you’re on their team and will do everything in your power to help.
- Don’t dismiss your child’s thoughts/statements as them just being dramatic or seeking attention. Even if that is the case, you always want to take it seriously. Again, err on the side of caution.
- Seek support yourself – whether it’s a spouse, friend, co-worker, pastor/priest, or therapist. It can be extremely helpful to sit with someone and talk about this situation and how you’re feeling about your child disclosing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.