Do you hate hearing your phone ring during school hours? Do you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see your child’s school number on the call display? I know I do. If my phone rings between 9 am and 3:30 pm my stomach falls and I dread hitting the talk button.
I had one of those fated phone calls last week. Instead of the principal or another member of the staff on the other end it was my daughter, “Mom, it happened again, you know, with the compass.” My heart fell.This has happened before, the “thing with the compass“. Rian, my beautiful, intelligent, creative, amazing 13-year -old daughter, has, in the past, taken her compass and placed the point of it against her throat with the intent of pushing it through the skin, cutting her jugular veins, bleeding out and ending her life.
My daughter struggles with suicidal ideation, apparently it’s common in people who suffer with OCD. She feels the world would be better off without her because no one likes her or no one cares or she makes things complicated so she starts thinking about killing herself. She then becomes fixated on this thought and it becomes a compulsion. The “compass thing” is only one of a few incidents that have happened so far.
The first time she felt like she wanted to end her life she reached out to her teacher by writing a note: “Mrs. D. I’m thinking about killing myself.” Mrs. D. immediately brought it to the attention of the principal who then called Family and Children Services. I was contacted after FACS was called. No crisis intervention was put in place for my daughter, she was put on the bus and sent home with no attempt made to contact a mental health agency or professional.
At the suggestion of her counselor, who I had emailed right after my call with the principal, I had Rian contact the CMHA hotline and she spoke with one of their counselors for almost an hour. Rian felt much better after speaking with the counselor so I thought it was an isolated incident. I was wrong.
Rian started grade 7 at a new school in September and things have improved there for her. She’s doing better socially and the staff have been very responsive to her special needs but there are still times when she experiences the desire to end her own life. This most recent incident is one of three since the beginning of the school year.
The first time she pointed the compass at her throat the teacher removed her from the classroom and they called me and everyone was so concerned. The second time they called and asked me to come pick her up because they couldn’t have her “acting out” in class like that. That’s when I asked them if they had called OECYC or Kids Help Phone or a crisis intervention agency. I asked them if they had used Rian’s Safe List, a card I had made up with a list of people or agencies she could call in a crisis, which I gave them for her file. The answer I got was “we didn’t know about any of that”.
Now, in defense of this school, the administration and faculty have been most receptive to suggestions and ideas on ways to help my daughter. So I printed up new Safe Lists and provided one for the Principal, one for the Vice-Principal, one for Rian’s classroom teacher, one for the Learning Support Teacher, one for the secretary and one for Rian’s desk. This last time, she called me right away – I’m the first person on her safe list.
At the Together Strong Conference there were several individuals who spoke about suicide from both a personal and professional view. Sarah Cannon spoke candidly about the loss of her husband to suicide 8 years ago and how she felt the medical system had failed both her and her husband. Eric Windeler of the Jack Project shared the very personal story of his son’s suicidal death just last year. I have nothing with which to compare their strength; being able to open up those wounds and bare their hearts and souls. They are truly amazing people.
A professional view was provided by Dr. Ian Manion, a clinical psychologist involved with the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, the Dare to Dream Program and Youth Net/Reseau Ado, and several other organizations, offered some insight with his presentation entitled “Bridging the Gap Between Suicide Prevention and Child and Youth Mental Health”. Here are some of the statistics he provided:
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in ages 16-24 (Statistics Canada, 2002)
- 13% to 25% of children and youth suffer from a mental health illness
- only 1 in 6 children and youth suffering from mental health illnesses access service (that means 5 young people are out there with no help)
- 50 children under the age of 14 die by suicide every year in Canada (that’s not even high school age)
- 45% of people with mental health issues will present with other problems i.e. – learning and school problems; health problems; substance abuse; risk-taking; legal infractions; other mental health issues; developmental issues and more
- 38% of children reported being bullied at least once or twice last year (2010)
- Anxiety problems are the most common in children and youth
Manion stressed that “suicidal behaviour is the best indicator of suicidal behaviour“. The old school idea that if someone is talking about suicide they’re not serious about committing suicide is now defunct. Professionals stress that when someone talks about suicide they are more likely to commit suicide. “It’s more important to save the friend than to save the friendship” is another mantra Manion used. He explained that it is one they emphasize with the youths they work worth – if a friend is talking about suicide, tell someone!!
Part 1 of 2