Recently, there have been a lot of discussions surrounding the release of “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix. The show is about a young girl, Hannah, who commits suicide. Hannah leaves behind recordings of her talking about her decision to commit suicide. The show is very vivid in its depiction of events.
The positive impact of this show has been a nationwide conversation regarding suicide awareness, prevention, mental illness, and removing the stigma.
The negative impact is that research has shown that someone is more likely to commit suicide if someone they know does so. A concern in the mental health community is that individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts may identify with Hannah and try to take their own lives. Many mental health practitioners have criticized the show to say that it romanticizes suicide and does not depict mental illness, which is a common cause of suicidal ideation along with environmental stressors.
IS MY CHILD AT RISK?
- Boys have a higher risk of completing the act of suicide but girls are more likely to attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts
- Do they have a pre-existing psychiatric condition (depression, anxiety, substance abuse)?
- Have they thought about or attempted suicide?
- Do they know someone who has attempted or completed suicide?
- Have they ever been a victim of or witnessed the physical or sexual abuse of another?
- Are the child’s parents divorced?
- Has your family moved? Moved frequently?
- Does your child have same-sex attraction or are they transgender?
- Have they been bullied?
- Have they researched information about suicide?
- Do they struggle with self-harm? (e.g., cutting, burning)
All of these things are risk factors for teen suicide, but this list is not all inclusive. Unfortunately, the risk is multiplied when a teen experiences more than one risk factor.
IT’S OK TO ASK!
A common misconception is that talking about suicide with someone might cause them to want act out their plans. However, it is actually the exact opposite. Someone who is in a healthy state of mind and who is not thinking about suicide would not develop suicidal thoughts if someone asked them if they were having them. Someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts is usually grateful that someone noticed or cared enough to ask. Usually individuals who are actively planning to commit suicide are grateful for the opportunity to tell someone and to receive help.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
You might feel strange at first, not knowing exactly how or when to ask or have this conversation. This is normal! Most importantly, you should approach your child in an environment in which they would feel comfortable disclosing such personal information—usually somewhere where you and your child can be alone. Allow for enough time to have a conversation. It might be difficult for them to open up if either of you are feeling rushed. It’s ok to use the word “suicide.” You could try, “[child’s name], have you ever thought about wanting to hurt yourself or someone else?” If they say yes, talk to them about it. Do they have any plans? How and when would they act them out? Try to remain calm and even tempered throughout the conversation. This will help your child to feel safe, because it looks like you can handle what they are saying. If your child discloses any type of desire to hurt themselves, immediately contact a mental health counselor. If your child has any plans or intentions to hurt themselves, immediately or in the near future, bring them to the local emergency room (Fargo-Moorhead: Prairie St. John’s). In these situations it is better to be safe than sorry.
Many adolescents who have survived an attempted suicide disclose that they wanted to end the pain they were in. When talking with your child about their desire to hurt themselves, be careful not to minimize their pain. It may seem easy as an adult to say, “you are young and this will pass.” But as a teen, these problems may seem like they are the whole world. Instead of trying to make them “feel better” about their situation, try listening to them and being with them in their pain.
Regardless of whether or not your child has a desire to hurt themselves, your goal in this conversation (and conversations to come) is to help your child to know that it is ok to talk to you about difficult things. If they can see that you can stay calm, listen to them, and support them—even in such a difficult conversation—it will strengthen your relationship and deepen their knowledge of how much you love them.
TRUST IN THE LORD
Jesus is with us, even in our darkest times. He wipes away our tears and carries us when we are too weak to move forward. He forgives all our sins, and loves us no matter what. Only Jesus knows what goes through the heart and mind of a person in their last moments. Try not to judge a person who is suffering so deeply as to contemplate or attempt suicide. Instead, be with them as Jesus is, and love them where they are at.
WHO CAN HELP?
It’s ok to ask for help. Jesus had help carrying His cross so that he could show us that sometimes we might need help to carry ours, and that’s ok!
When you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is important to put them into contact with a mental health professional immediately!
If they are in an immediate crisis, call 911 right away!
Otherwise, anyone with thoughts of suicide can call the National Suicide Hotline at any time at 307-202-8400.
The National Suicide Hotline is free of charge, can provide crisis services, and can direct you to local crisis agencies. Many communities also have local crisis phone numbers and agencies that provide crisis support services.
Always remember that there are people who care and want to help. There are national and local agencies all over the country. You are not alone!