May 20, 2016
Posted By: Shaunescy
On May 18, 2016 a 10th grader at Bozeman High School took his own life. Local therapist Sarah Webb graciously submitted the following piece on grieving suicide to help parents help their children through this tragic event.
Written by Sarah Webb
The stinging heartbreak of another youth to take his own life. The stunning silence of this one life brings a small community to tears and fears. And every parent wonders, how do I keep my child emotionally and physically safe during this time?
First, start with your own feelings about the death. Judgments and assumptions based on our own experiences naturally pass through our consciousness. Take care to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings, and know they may not be applicable to your child. We have vast and varied reactions to grief, even within the same family.
Start with your child by offering your presence. Discuss factual information about the suicide, using the term “died by suicide” rather than “committed.” Ask what friends are discussing, taking the time to dispel rumors and understand the information your child is grappling with. Take extreme care when offering thoughts about why that child took his life. The truth is, we do not know, and we do not want to communicate this option as an effective way to end suffering or as a strategy for attention.
Honest answers to “why”:
I don’t know.
He could not see another way to solve to pain he was encountering.
Acknowledge and gently encourage a perspective with your child that does not romanticize this option, but rather focus on your child’s emotions and thoughts stemming from the death. Be accepting of all reactions: sadness, anger, confusion, disbelief or numbing. ASK YOUR CHILD IF SHE/HE HAS HAD OR IS HAVING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS. Talking about suicide does not increase the risk of someone going on to take his own life.
Invite a conversation about solutions to your child’s reaction:
Encourage your child to talk to safe adults who will be positive supports in their reaction to this event.
Encourage use of positive coping skills, such as activity, art, journaling, connecting with friends.
Offer your presence for follow up and check-ins.
Encourage adherence to routines, especially sleeping and eating schedules.
Stay away from clichés, such as “time heals all wounds”, but rather keep space open for your child to have her reaction for however long it takes her. Advice is not always the answer. Silence and whole-hearted presence and acceptance of your child’s reaction can profoundly aide in healing. If your child pushes away, remind him of your presence by continually offering it with gentle check-ins. Honor your child as an expert in himself and be aware of how he is coping and communicating about this event.
Know the signs of depression in teens:
Withdrawal from typical friends, family and activities.
Change in sleeping and/or eating patterns.
Significant change in weight and/or appearance, including clothing choices.
Obsession with death.
Talking about a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, loneliness or worthlessness.
Signs of saying goodbye; out of the blue phone calls, giving away possessions, etc.
A sudden shift from sadness to an extreme calm or giddiness.
Our children need our presence, acceptance, and gentle guidance. Know that you have great capacity to provide all these things. And know your resources to support your path through such a tragic time.
My personal thoughts go to the family and friends who treasured, raised, hoped for, pained for and loved this young soul. I hope for support and peace as you trudge through this path of grief and darkness.
Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 24/7: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Text “MT” 24/7: 741-741
Sarah Webb, LCSW is working diligently with local agencies to build a system to support social emotional wellness for children with preventive strategies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org