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Children and Suicide

Preventing suicide in our most fragile population: Children

“Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.”
Patti Smith

Children commit suicide. This is the most frightening and scary thing any parent can ever think of. I have received countless calls from parents saying, “My son (or daughter) is threatening suicide” and I have to work quickly. Of course, there some children that have a real mental illness and others that are so upset they are simply saying this to get help. Whatever the case someone needs to act quickly to assist the child in navigating their deep emotional, mental and sometimes physical pain.

In other words, there needs to be skilled professional able to bring the child from where they are (deep suffering) to some relief so that they can see whatever situation they are dealing with differently. If you ever find yourself as a parent, teacher or doctor in this situation my recommendation is to:

  • Get Assistance – Seek someone (like myself) who is skilled in helping children navigate their deep emotions and come out the other side. They may have a whole lot of different letters behind their name or not—that’s not the important point. This person may even be a Rabbi, Minister or affiliated with some community group you are a part of but what makes them different is they understand how children perceive the world and why this experience is weighing so heavily on their heart and mind. It is this person along with the parents (or caregivers) that can get them across the bridge of unbearable suffering to relief which may or may not include medication. (National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK).
  • Create a Wellness Plan – Children want to be well and if they are thinking (or speaking) about suicide something is very wrong. They may be using it as a bargaining tactic like, “If you take me back to that school I will kill myself” but they may mean it. It’s important to work with your child, a professional and create a mind-body-spirit plan where their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual (creative) needs are optimized so that this blip is merely a stepping stone to their greater health.
  • Build a Team – My experience is that most children that receive skillful assistance (therapist or other) along with getting on a new health program can overcome their suffering and get on a better track. Of course, more serious cases exist where children have persistent suicidal thoughts, problematic behavior, and other issues that need psychiatric and medical attention—if this is a concern I suggest building a team of professionals to address and treat your child’s chemical imbalances, problematic thinking and potentially mental illness (although I hate that phraseology).

Some children who suffer from clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or who simply are highly sensitive taking life in more deeply, need extra attention (and guidance) while growing up so they can develop resilience and not allow others to impact them so deeply. Like the boy, Michael Morones, who recently attempted suicide at 11 years old because other kids in his class were teasing him about liking my little pony is saddening. My prayers and thoughts are with his family as well as him during this difficult time (he’s still hospitalized in NC with possible brain damage). Michael is a highly sensitive boy that simply couldn’t handle the deep psychic pain he was experiencing and needed a way out.

Giving children other options to feel relief, handle difficult emotions and learn how to navigate the intensity this life brings needs to get on the curriculum—whether at home or school because the challenges of life don’t go away.

Thinking and Acting

I also want to make a very clear distinction between thinking about suicide and acting on it in childhood. Many kids think, “This sucks. I have to get out of here” and very few act those thoughts out in a suicide attempt, however it happens. If your child is someone who acts impulsively, has experienced bouts of depression, or is highly sensitive my recommendation is they need a mentor whether it’s a therapist or someone else. They absolutely need someone they can talk to about things that cause shame (like suicide, depression, being bullied, fears and anxiety about life). Because all the research points to the fact that if you have one true friend the chances of this occurring go down dramatically and if you throw in a mentor you have more people “on your side” to help navigate life’s challenges.

“Life isn’t for the weak” is a saying that I believe is true. Suicide isn’t the answer we want our children to choose when life gets tough, but it is a complex subject impacted greatly by a biological predisposition and other stressors that make it seem (at that moment) like a good choice. What I do know for sure is that more and more children need guidance on how to handle their deep emotions and “find a way” through their challenges versus getting stuck in the misery of the moment.

By Maureen Dawn Healy

Maureen Dawn Healy is an author, speaker and counselor working directly with parents and children. She lives in Los Angeles but works via Telephone and Skype too. Her last two books include: Growing Happy Kids, and The Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids. Learn more: and @mdhealy

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