Supporting Families of Suicidal Youth
Being confronted with suicidal behavior often produces strong emotions of fear, anger, and disbelief. Hearing someone talk about suicide may cause you to overreact or not be able to act at all. It is very important to be clear about your own feelings and limits concerning suicide before you try to help someone. You may not be the best person to help because of your personal relationship to the individual, your own beliefs or other reasons. If action is needed and you are not in a position to respond, referring to someone else who can help is an important step.
Encouraging parents or guardians of troubled or suicidal youth to seek help and providing resource information about where to turn for assistance can help save a life. Many children and teens feel sad and alone; depression is the most common emotional problem in adolescence. Depression and suicidal behaviors can be diagnosed and treated.
Parents can help a depressed teen by directly communicating their concerns and feelings about the possibility of suicide and by letting the teen know that they are not alone; there is hope and help is available.
When a family is in distress, it is often very difficult for them to take action. They may be feeling that their world has turned upside down and they are paralyzed by their fear, anger, denial, shame, or disbelief.
Parents or guardians might need support to recognize the importance of obtaining professional help. They may also need help to identify support systems and resources available to them in their family, among their friends, or other community resources. Family members also benefit from having someone who can listen as they work through their issues.
One of the most effective ways to help a parent or guardian prevent a youth suicide is to convince them to remove lethal means, especially firearms, from the environment of the suicidal youth. A lethal weapon in the hands of a youth in despair can end a life in an instant. The risk of suicide by firearms is 5 times greater if a firearm is in the house, even if the firearm is locked. Local police officers, sheriffs, and state police are available to assist in the temporary or permanent disposal of a firearm. Locking up both over-the counter and prescription medications and alcohol are also important steps to prevent an impulsive act from ending a life.
After a Youth Suicide
If a suicide has occurred in a family, it evokes a special, complicated form of grief that includes shock, denial, disbelief, guilt, and shame. Acknowledgement of the loss and expressions of caring and concern can be very comforting to family members.
Many families who have lost a loved one to suicide say they are comforted by visits and messages from friends of the deceased. There are bereavement support groups in many communities that can provide invaluable support to bereaved families; suicide survivor groups are particularly helpful.
Compiled from: Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Guidelines.