According to newly publicized studies conducted by Hopkins Children’s Center, 7,000 to 12,000 American children will lose a parent to suicide each year (Nauert, 2010). These young children and adolescents are three times more likely than all other children of finding themselves in the same situation (Mynews, 2010). This means that we as a society have an increased responsibility. We MUST learn to prepare for any situation were our Intervention could make a difference.
Ok, so, I have been where you are now, and I know you might be asking yourself any number of questions. You might be like me and say, what can I do, or how can I help? You might be thinking that you are incapable of doing anything at all. I am here to tell you that after a two-day intense course, I learned that the answer may seem out of reach, but it is not.
I once had to decide to prepare for such a situation. My oldest daughter’s father committed suicide when she was seven. However, my first step was to explore my own attitudes concerning suicide. What does that mean, you ask? Well… Some people think that they are not skilled enough to help someone. Some think that their involvement will not matter. Then again, others think that suicide is the loser’s way out, and that anyone who commits suicide deserves what they get. Unfortunately, these are all myths. They are wrong. The fact is that a loving/supportive connection to at least one other individual can calm the suicidal soul. All he or she has to do is find a way to connect with the individual. Of course, this may mean researching some of the most common psychiatric illnesses, and understanding their symptoms; including those associated with a parent’s suicide (Mynews, 2010).
The next step that I had to learn was that you have to allow yourself to connect to a person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts (Livingworks, 2010). I know this is not easy; especially if you have been raised like, I have and was taught to believe the myth that if you do it wrong you will push him or her over the edge. Nevertheless, you have to find the courage, and the best way to do this is to actively listen to what they have to say. Then repeat their words back to them, asking questions along the way. These two things will show the individual that you are not only interested in their thoughts and feelings, but that are genuine in your desire to help them overcome the problem.
One way to think about this is to imagine that your best friend has just lost his or her parent, child, or a spouse. How do you think he or she might be feeling? Are they feeling lost, lonely, or having feelings of guilt that make them susceptible to thoughts of suicide? If so, they need to know that someone cares, and giving them this attention will not push them over the edge. Instead exploring the situation will give the individual someone to communicate his or her needs to. Once you know their thoughts, you can make a decision about what needs to be done. If you feel that the person is suicidal, the next step becomes harder. Ask them if it is true. Say something like, “You are really going through a lot, and I can tell how stressed you are. This makes me wonder if you have ever thought about ending your life.” It is not uncommon for a person who is looking for help to open up to a friend, associate, or family member who is not afraid to ask the dreaded questions.
If you learn that the person has contemplated suicide, do not stop there. Listen to the individual’s reasons for living and dying. This may require you to open your ears and close your mouth. Remember, if you have gotten this far, the person WANTS you to know. They probably want you to stop them. So, let him or her rant, cry, and when the conversation gets quiet, ask questions and repeat answers. Through this conversation, you can reveal important details like: If he or she has considered a method, if they have what it takes to carry out the plan, and if they are willing to part with these items. Remember, not to pressure. Take it easy.
For Example. Let us say that the friend from the scenario above says, “Yes, I have been thinking of ending my life.” Then you might say, “have you considered a method, or have you thought about how you might do it?” This could be followed by, “Yes, I’m going to shoot myself.” Do not panic! Just ask them if they have a gun. If they say yes, then you need to ask, “Where is it.” If they say no, ask them how they would get one and go from there.
For this scenario, we will say the answer was yes, and the person has a gun. This means that the next step is to ask if he or she will give it to you. Some will, some will not. If they do; that is great. If they will not, then you need to try to disconnect him or her through steps from the gun. Do this by asking if it is loaded. If so, ask them if they will unload it. Tell them that it will make you feel more comfortable, and that they can always reload it if they decide to. You are not to force them to give you the bullets. Instead, try to get them to put the clip or single shells in a different room than the gun. This puts one more step between the person and the deed; which is what you want because it forces the person to rethink each step. It will probably also help them to rethink the action completely.
IF, you have gotten this far, the next step is constructing a “safety” contract. Begin verbally by asking the person to repeat the steps he or she will follow before they move forward with the plan. This might include simple things like 1. I will write out my feelings, 2. I will call a friend, 3. I will watch a movie, or anything else that seems fit. Either way, you want him or her to have a plan that will offset the action you are trying to prevent. Once you get them to agree, have them work with you to place the contract into writing. You sign; they sign. In addition, place it into immediate effect. This step finalizes the situation and helps the person suffering the problem to see that there are alternatives. It also gives you a window so that you can follow up. This follow up should include seeking additional help from a mental health professional.
Mynews (2010) Children who lose parent to suicide may go the same way. Retrieved on April 4, 2010 from the Mynews.in website:
Newsguide (2010) Children who lose a parent to suicide more likely to die the same way. Retrieved on April 27, 2010 from the Newguide.us website:
Nauert, R (2010) Parental Suicide Places Child at Risk. Retrieved from The PsychCentral website:
Living Works Education Inc. (2004) Assist. Retrieved on April 27, 2010 from the Livingworks website: http://www.livingworks.net