I know, none of us want to talk about this let alone think that our tween or teen could get to this point. It’s a tough topic to address for so many, yet I believe one of the most critical. I propose that while your teenager may be okay, he or she knows of someone who is not. It is an epidemic; and somehow our kids are living in a culture that has desensitized itself to it. More and more kids are feeling the despair and toying with the fantasy of death. But it is important we talk about suicide because truthfully – and pardon my direct delivery – what if your teen is actually suicidal? Or what if one of their best friends says he or she wants to take their life? Would you know what to do? Here are 5 things you can do if you suspect someone is hurting:
1. Ask them directly: “Are you suicidal?” And listen to what they say. Do your best to not react. Remain calm, open and empathetic and be genuinely curious when you ask, “what all can you tell me about this?”. Keep in mind there is a difference between having an intent to take their life and just feeling like they want to die. But you need to know the difference, which leads to the next question (more on that in #4).
2. Ask them directly: “Do you have a plan to take your life?” They might have a stash of pills somewhere, have access to a gun or have sharp objects hidden in their room. If they answer no, skip to #3 but if they answer YES, stop everything and follow these steps:
· Take them to the closest ER
· Or, take them to your local crisis center: Summitstone Health Partners is in Fort Collins as a 24/7 crisis care center, located at 1217 Riverside Ave,
· Remain calm, gather your insurance information and bring something to do as the entire process can be upwards of 3-4 hours depending on how busy the facility is
· If they refuse to willingly go to a crisis center, you have the option to call the local police and ask them to do a well check on the teen and you will all go from there
3. Ask them directly: “On a scale of 0-10, 0 being you are not at all suicidal and would never even think of it, and 10 being you plan on doing it asap, what number best describes how you feel?” If the teen does not have a plan or express an intent to take their life, it is smart to gauge their level of distress. Scaling provides you with a barometer that you can use to help determine their level of distress. A number between 5-6.5 suggests they are struggling and working with a counselor could be advantageous, but anything over a 7 demonstrates an urgency. Get them in to the first available slot with a therapist.
4. If the teen does not have a plan and does not seem to be in immediate danger, talk to them. They may fall into the category of “just wanting to die” or fantasizing about being “better off dead” because they are not equipped to handle the stressors they are facing. Whether it is a response to trauma, stressors at home or school, a negative sense of self or all of the above, listen to them. Do not minimize what they are experiencing and offer your support in any way you can. Many of us can even relate to those kinds of statements so maintain a compassionate, curious awareness of them and engage them as best you can. The more you know, the more you are able to connect them to appropriate resources.
5. Take care of yourself. This is heavy stuff and none of us wishes for this come near our homes or our kids. One of the best ways we can ensure we are able to really be there for those who need us most is to make sure we tend to our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits so we are as equipped as possible to take this on if we need to.
Tough topic, right? There is a misconception that if we talk to kids about suicide then we are putting ideas into their head or that we will somehow make things worse. Besides, it can be easier to just ignore things, right? However, based on evidence and my experience working with suicidal teenagers, many actually feel relief to be able to verbalize where they really are. Imagine the burden it is to carry such a dark secret, and then the relief that is available when it is out in the open and help is on the way.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact myself or any of the other therapists at Emery Counseling.