Sep 16, 2021
They say history has a way of repeating itself. Society, much like individuals, fall into old patterns in an attempt to remain comfortable. When it comes to taboo subjects, it's safer to push those ideas away rather than bring them to the surface and face uncertainty. Fear is often a motivator for many. Our fear attempts to protect us but at times it finds a way to hinder our growth. This fear has silenced many by stealing the voice that has the power to educate and protect the most vulnerable, our children. It goes without saying, parents often have the best of intentions and want to protect their children from the hurt of the world. In an effort to protect, conversations run dry and those taboo subjects get washed away in hopes of dealing with them another day. What if we only have today? Would conversations change?
Suicide is often a topic many wish to avoid. It's plagued in stigma and silenced out of fear that others will catch it. With suicide rates historically on an upward trend, there is high likelihood that you or someone you know will be impacted. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It ranks as the second leading cause for people ages 10-34 and fourth leading cause for people ages 35-44. There is significant data illustrating increased suicide rates among teens. This data is bringing mental health and the subject of suicide to the surface. This awareness is generating questions and providing an opportunity to better communicate with children.
Children have a knack for learning. They are naturally curious and amazingly receptive. Some children ask hundreds of questions, while others, like little scientists, prefer to take a step back and observe their environment. Although children have a yearning for growth, parental fears can stifle open communication. By having ongoing conversations about mental health, these difficult topics become easier to discuss. When talking to children, parental pressures can be decreased by allowing children to take the lead and by meeting them where they're at. This can help parents determine the appropriate amount of information to provide. By giving children the oportunity to take the lead, conversations of suicide may surface naturally from curiosity or they may arise from personal or community impact. Age and maturity level are helpful measures to guide conversations in a way that can be easily received.
A common myth surrounding suicide is the idea of choice when in fact those who die of suicide often feel they have no choice. Much like we talk about other illnesses, suicide can be communicated along the same vein. When we explain death due to physical illness, we typically tell children "this person died because they were sick." Suicide can be described in much the same way, as suicide is an illness of mental health.
Those at increased risk may have a history of trauma, substance use, experienced major life changes, or be diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, such as Schizophrenia. Anxiety and depression are common factors contributing to thoughts of suicide. Environmental factors often exacerbate these symptoms, such as school bullying. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 high school students experience suicidal ideation and 1 in 12 have attempted. Experiences such as bullying can compound risk factors, making individuals feel trapped with no alternative options. This devastation is far reaching and increases risk factors for many, making it of utmost importance to communicate with children. Much like other illnesses, suicide is preventable and recovery is possible.
Parents play an integral part in helping children understand their own mental health. If today was your only opportunity to talk about "the tough stuff" with your children, would you take it?
Hedegaard H, Curtin SC, Warner M. Increase in suicide mortality in the United States, 1999–2018pdf icon
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