I recently came across a very disturbing article posted on Facebook from the Nationwidechildrens.org
The headline is “Suicide: The Conversation We Should Have with Our Kids” and the picture at the top of the article made my heart hurt. It says “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 19 year olds”
I’m just going to stop and repeat that.
Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death among 10 to 19 year olds AKA children.
Let that sink in.
Unintentional injuries are the first, in case you were wondering (CDC, 2018)
I remember the night that Sean died- one of the questions I got more than anything was “What are you going to tell Luke?” followed by a variety of suggestions;
“Tell him it was an accident”
“Don’t tell him”
“Tell him it was someone else that did it’
“Don’t tell him”
“Wait until he’s much older”
“Don’t tell him”
The options ping-ponged around in my brain and I ultimately decided to adhere to a don’t ask, don’t tell policy and lucky for me, for a long time, Luke didn’t ask.
When we finally did have a discussion about it about a year later- I was nauseous with anxiety but ultimately was relived after it was over. Luke received the information better that expected. I explained depression as though it were any other illness, just like your kidneys can get sick and it may cause you to die- sometimes your brain gets sick and it tricks you into thinking you shouldn’t be alive anymore…and so, you kill yourself.
I concluded that conversation with a reminder that I personally feel, I shouldn’t have had to give –
“Try not to talk about it to the kids at school, but. If you want to talk about it find a trusted adult, some people’s parents don’t talk to them about this kind of stuff and it might really upset them if you told their child.”
Truth is, had this not ever happened to our family- I probably would never had talked to Luke about suicide at all…and that’s part of the problem.
It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but a necessary one.
Just a few weeks ago when I picked Luke up from school for counseling he was quiet and not his usual self- we had a conversation that I’ll try to quickly summarize and loosely paraphrase.
“What’s going on bub, everything ok?”
“Yeah, I just have a lot of thoughts this time of year”
“Do you want to talk about it to me?”
“Yeah.. I just don’t understand why dad wanted to go to heaven”
“Well…I don’t think he necessarily wanted to die, I think that he was really sick and he was hurting and depression makes you not care about yourself and I think he just wanted to stop feeling so bad”
“Yeah but why didn’t he ask for help…I would have helped him”
This broke my fucking heart. This sweet little nine year old boy thinks its job to help with his dad’s depression.
“I know you would have bub, and dad knew that too but you know, it’s a parents job to protect their kids and that’s the thing with depression is you think your sickness, and your existence is a burden to those who love you”
“Yeah but then he killed himself and that hurt me so he didn’t protect me’
Shit, he got me there.
“He didn’t do it to hurt you, or me, or Gwenie or Grandma or anyone else. He thought he was better off not being around and he thought he was a burden to us- that’s what mental illness does to you, bub.”
“Can we stop at 7-Eleven and get slurpees?”
As uncomfortable as it is, these conversations are SO important. I want Luke to know the reality of depression and mental illness. Depression is the most common mental illness in the world, chances are you or someone you know has depression- and it could be your child.
Talk to them about the realities of depression, anxiety and other mental illness. Talk to them about suicide and what they can do if they, or someone they know is having suicidal thoughts.
Below are a few things you or your child can do if struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 which is available 24 hours everyday. You can also chat online and remain anonymous. Text the crisis line at 741741.Seek professional help, even taking to your primary physician.Speak to a trusted adult about it.