Youth Suicide – Let’s Give Them Hope

Youth Suicide - Let's Give Them Hope

I just can’t take it anymore. The voices are getting stronger, and I find that I can’t pull myself away. It’s getting too hard, and I don’t want to live. Please help me.” Sitting across from me, she speaks those words. Desperation, fear and sadness mix with the tears running down her face. I can’t help but notice her hands; they shake and she tries to control them. It’s the only thing she feels like she can still control.

She settles herself enough to answer a few questions—the questions I have to ask as a school counselor, the ones I hate asking. There are usually three that I start with. Sometimes it’s easier just to go for it; they know what’s coming.

“Are you thinking about hurting yourself—about killing yourself?”

“Do you have a plan?”

“Do you have means to do it?”

For some reason, the last one is the hardest. I have been asking those questions for 15 years, and the answer to the third question feels so final. If they are confident enough in their plan to have a means to carry it out, we are really close to losing them.

On any given day, this conversation is taking place. It may be happening in a counselor’s office, a classroom, with a therapist, pastor or friend. We are lucky if it is taking place—that means there is hope. It’s the ones who don’t talk about it that we lose, those who have meticulously answered all three of those questions on their own. We lost them before they even left us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 42,773 suicides reported in 2014, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the United States died by suicide every 12.3 minutes on average.

There is a direct correlation between depression and teen suicide. The CDC reports that for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45 percent), suffocation (40 percent) and poisoning (8 percent).

Death from suicide is only part of the problem. More young people survive attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9 to 12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the previous year.

There was one morning in particular that I remember the most. It was winter, so the faint sign of light in my office was coming from a small lamp. I had just arrived at work and saw the shadow of someone sitting in one of my chairs. I wasn’t expecting anyone this early, so I found myself a bit apprehensive about what to expect.

Sitting in the dark was the one student I worried about the most. He was the one who I thought about when I went home at night—wondering if I would see him the next day. His head was down, and his hands were trembling. Tears escaped his eyes as he looked up at me. His voice was quiet, but serious as he spoke to me: “I almost did it last night.”

I found myself wanting to say something, to start asking the questions and going through my list of what to do, but I stopped and just listened.

[irp posts=”133″ name=”Talking to Your Teen About Mental Health and Depression (Without Saying ‘Mental’ or ‘Depression’)”]

“I was sitting in my room with the gun. It was loaded. I had it in my mouth and my finger on the trigger and then I heard it—my mom. She had just come home and called out my name. I stopped.”

Even writing this now, so many years later, I ache for him. His pain, desperation, isolation, hopelessness and helplessness was too much. Killing himself was the only option he felt he had. I always think about the interruption that night. His mom calling out his name—that defining moment in her life. The moment that saved his life.

Time

Time is what we talk about with youth. Many of them report an urge to kill themselves that sometimes lasts a short time. If they can get through it, they do not complete suicide. If they do not have access to end their life, they wake up the next day. If someone happens to interrupt them, they can get help before they feel the urge again. If they have a lifeline—someone to reach out to—we see them at school.

There is no empty chair in a classroom.

Trust

Identifying one person they can go to, one person they can trust to be vulnerable with, to open up and share their thoughts with—this is what we desperately hope for in the fight to save their life.

Connections

Human connection is a powerful thing. When it seems that there is no one who understands, a hand reaching out is sometimes the one thing that begins the journey toward seeking help.

I’m not sure if I have the answer for how to end this. I don’t even know if we will ever celebrate a decline in youth suicides. It seems as though the numbers are staggering. Any suicide is one too many.

What I do know is that our kids need us. They need to see hope in our eyes and feel heard and accepted when they come to us. We need to help them understand that they are not alone in a world that feels so lonely.

We need to tell them to keep holding on.

There is help.

There is hope.

They are not alone.

This is not how their story has to end.


Sara LindbergAbout the Author: Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg is a 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counselor. Combining her 20-plus years’ experience in the fitness and counseling fields, she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. When she is not running, working with teenagers, or driving her own kids crazy, she manages a Facebook page called FitMom. Sara has a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She does not consider herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts and access to a computer. She gains inspiration for her writing from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.

7 Comments

Sharon H

Although it wasn’t a suicide attempt, my sweet 12 year old niece had to be taken to the ER because she slit her wrists. For the next week, she was not to be left alone. My brother and his wife were shocked. They are excellent parents but Tara’s self-esteem was so low that she felt she really didn’t matter to anyone and thus never told them of how she was feeling inside. She is better now, but it came as such a shock to all of us.

This article has helped me to deal with my own feelings regarding this event. Thank you.

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Chris T

We are in the middle of this pain with our teenage son. He has been to several treatment centers for anxiety, has hated us for sending him, and is now overwhelmed with the pointlessness of life. I appreciate the timliness of this article, but was left wondering….then what? Having that person to talk to…is that all it takes? Where does one go from that point in order to continue the pathway to healing and to save a child?

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Hey Sigmund

Chris this sounds like such a distressing time for your family. You have done the right thing getting your son professional support. It is difficult to know what your son needs and it is very likely that he doesn’t know himself. This is why having someone for him to talk to is so important. Therapy will help your son to explore what might be contributing to his pain and help him to find what he needs to move forward. Love and strength to you and your family.

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Anne R

Chris, your situation is shockingly like ours with our son. We are in the process of trying to figure out “what now” also. It is so difficult to navigate a pathway forward after having done all the things we thought would brig hope and healing to our son. Instead, seemed to deepen the depreasion and anxiety, and annihilate our relationship with him. We are going all out to repair trust and relationship first and foremost. Will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

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HisMom

Thank you to you and all the school counselors who work tirelessly with our youth. This could have been my child you were talking to. I am so thankful he had a counselor to talk to – and sought him out – when he was having suicidal ideations.
Please take any child/youth/person seriously when they talk of suicide. They are asking for help.

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Carol

My son 20 years old has been suffering from anxiet. He moved in with his dad and new step mom. they were up north and my son had his sister (same dad) stop over as he was in the middle of a anxiety episode. His dad told him not to have anyone over. When hid dad came home he woke my son up and told him to get out and take all his stuff cause he lied and disobeyed and had his sister over. She was there for an hour. He called me from his car with all his clothes piled in back seat. He is in 2nd year of college getting good grades and works as a shift lead. He is a humble well liked young man by my 9 sisters and 3 brothers many friends and a good support system on my side of family. I am here for him but how can a father do this to a son and call it “tough love” Where do I start over after all he”s been through. He saved money bought a car with cash and is responsible. Any advice appreciated.

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Hey Sigmund

Your son sounds like a wonderful young man. Let him know that you are there for him and if you believe the treatment was unfair, let your son know that. It would also be worth chatting to him about what he (your son) might have been able to have done differently, or what he might be able to do now. It is impossible to say without knowing all of the details, but what he needs to hear is that whatever happened, it is no measure of the young man he is or the person he is growing into. If his dad is making him doubt his self worth, your son needs to hear a different point of view, and you can give him that. It is difficult to understand the way some parents show love, but it doesn’t mean his dad doesn’t love him. Let your son know this. His dad will have all sorts of reasons for doing what he did – his own history and insecurities? pressure from home? – who knows – we can only speculate, but the point is that none of those reasons are likely to have anything to do with the man your son is, anything he did, or how much his father loves him. The most important thing is that your son is able to see the response as an over-reaction if that’s what it was, and not a reflection on the amazing man your son is.

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The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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