This has been one of the most challenging pieces for me to write. It’s such a sensitive subject that most people shy away from the very word “suicide”. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to think about it. Few want to deal with it, but thousands of people do, everyday of their lives for decades. They are the loved ones who are still alive ; the parents, wives, husbands, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, girlfriends and boyfriends, friends and family. They are the ones listed in the obituary as “Survived by” and everyday they must survive without a person that they loved and laughed with and hoped for.
The band Good Charlotte released an amazing song about suicide in 2002 called “Hold On”. The song encourages people to “hold on, if you feel like letting go” and the video features the loved ones who, in the words of one young man, were “left behind”.
I do not want to become a mother who was “left behind”. I do not want to pick out a coffin for my child and decide whether she will be buried or cremated. I do not want to live in a world without her. Ever. So rather than pretend the situation doesn’t exist and avoid talking about it I choose to educate myself and the people around me, and most importantly – the people around her, about suicide in all its ugliness – and the hope of suicide prevention.
At the Together Strong Conference Dr. Judith Springer, of the Ceceilyn Miller Institute of Clifton, New Jersey, spoke to us about Lifelines. Lifelines is part of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide and is aimed at educating the public, especially teachers, about teen suicide and how we, as adults, can prevent it. This program is available free online and offers a selection of material geared for both parents and teaching staff. Lifelines aim is to create a “competent school community” with the goal of changing the whole school culture so that one day, hopefully very soon, teen suicide will be studied only in a history class.
Springer explained that suicidal thinking is not about wanting to die but about wanting the pain to end. She said “Suicide is an attempt to solve a problem of intense emotional pain with impaired problem solving skills.” That I can understand. I can understand exactly what my daughter is thinking because, when I was her age, I had a page in the back of my diary listing all the ways I could end my life. The only reason I didn’t is because I knew it would devastate my mother and I loved her too much to hurt her like that.
There are warning signs for suicidal behaviour. Springer asked us to remember the F.A.C.T.S.: Feelings (are they depressed, withdrawn), Action (behaviour, is it unusual), Changes (in dress, habits, language), Threats (have they talked about committing suicide), Situations (are they placing themselves in danger). She also warned us to be aware of the “period of dread”, the time between doing something that will get you in trouble and getting found out, because it is a very high risk time for suicide.
It is very important that we are aware of children and teens and their attitudes about life and death and that we stay on guard for potential suicidal behaviours, but that is only part of a solid plan to prevent youth suicide. We also need to arm our children with tools and strategies so that they are aware of youth suicide, not only for their own protection, but for the protection of their peers as well. Dr. Ian Manion shared some “Protective Factors”, means of enabling young people to prevent suicide in youth:
- problem solving life and communication skills
- resilient personality
- a sense of belonging
- secure attachment to positive family
- access to other caring and supportive adults
- pro-social peers
- appropriate discipline, limit setting and structure
- opportunities to develop self-esteem
- good mental health
Suicide prevention is everyone’s business. When my daughter called me and said “Mom, it happened again”, my heart fell and my mind went blank for a few moments. Then I pulled it together and told her I would be right there. I gathered some material and headed to the school. I presented the principal with a pamphlet from the Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention and links to the online resources provided by both Dr. Manion and Dr. Springer.
I told her that the youngest child on record who has attempted suicide is 4. I informed her that “suicidal behaviour is the best indicator of suicidal behaviour“. I gave her the pamphlet and the links. I asked her to pass it on to the school faculty, especially those who deal with my daughter daily. I trust that she will.
I asked my daughter to describe what happened, why did she feel like putting the point of the compass to her throat. She said “I don’t know. I was just rummaging through my desk looking for something and I saw the compass and I wanted to put it against my throat.” She told me she picked up the compass, then her mind cleared and she knew she didn’t want to put the compass to her throat so she pushed it away from her. I was so proud of her. I praised her for realizing what was happening, for being so aware of herself that she was able to stop the behaviour. On the way home we stopped at the dollar store and she picked out a foam air glider as her reward for being so astute.
I have done what I can at this point, but I will not stop. I will continue to educate myself, my children, their schools, our family, our friends – everyone I can in order to save my child. And just maybe someone else’s child will be saved too.
*Please check out the Glossary & Resources page for links to services and agencies that promote good mental health & suicide prevention.