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How To Talk To Your Child About Suicide

There have been more high-profile suicides in the last year than in a few decades combined. While that number is skewed by the fact that accidental overdoses and other random deaths are unverifiable, it would appear that blatant suicides in recent months have left no doubt as to the intended purpose.

As an admirer of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chris Cornell, Robin Williams, and Chester Bennington – all of whom reportedly killed themselves via hanging – it has become abundantly clear that we have a real problem dealing with depression and any of its cousins.

While the deaths of these icons (and numerous others we have lost at the helm of this insidious beast) forces us to reflect on the plight of mankind, it is an oversight to only reflect on celebrities that have captured the attention of headlines.

According to WHO, approximately 1 person commits suicide every 40 seconds, and that is absolutely HORRIFYING, regardless of the situation. I don’t care if you are a celebrity living the life of luxury or a poor man living in some unrecognizable town – nobody should have to suffer to the point where they feel the only way out is ending their life.

Even more disturbing is that a significant amount of these deaths are carried out by young teenagers. While no suicide is justifiable, it seems particularly gratuitous when a kid does it because they haven’t necessarily experienced the true highs and lows that life has to offer.

So how do we prevent this as parents? How do we deflect the grandiosity of life’s hardships so that our kids understand that there are things worth living for?

For starters, we have to start recognizing depression as an actual illness – not an emotion not a sign of weakness. We’ve done a great job as a society perpetuating any form of defeat, pain, sadness, heartache, depression and/or anxiety as a character flaw. This is particularly true if you are a male and even MORE true if you are a male teenager.

Because we as a society attribute depression to weakness, the male species particularly has trouble asking for help. We view sadness and anxiety as an emotion, and being “emotional” is something women do. We also view these things as character flaws, things that can be wished away if the victim would simply try harder, be better, pray deeper, and self-pity less.

The problem with this approach is that depression is almost never something that can be fixed through strong-will alone. If it were, there would be fewer therapists, mental institutions, and suicides in society.

So, if you are a male in society, admitting you are suffering is almost like admitting you’re less of a man – it’s an undesirable trait that, if exposed, could bleed into your family life, your work life, and your friendships.

If you are a TEENAGE male in society, the embarrassment becomes exponentially worse. Not only are depressed men stigmatized in society, but so are depressed kids. Why? Because we have difficulty separating what is simple teenage angst and what is actually cause for concern. We all remember being a teenager; we all remember how the bad things seemed to be end-of-the-world atrocities. Every crush, every test, every game, every school dance – these were all breeding grounds for unworldly devastation.

So, as parents, it’s difficult sifting through what are merely teenage hormones and what is a call for concern.

More than ever before, it’s important to provide a safe-haven for your kids so they understand the lines of communication are always open and judgment will never be made. Let your kids (in particular, your sons) know that it’s actually ok to feel isolated and depressed, that these feelings don’t reflect him as a man nor do they make you think less of him as a parent. Let them know that strength comes in many forms and being proactive about your mental health is one of them.

TALK ABOUT SUICIDE. Point out these celebrity deaths and explain that, even those who seemingly have perfect lives, can be subject to this disease. Let them know that it doesn’t matter what your age, your color, your gender, or your social status is because anyone and everyone is capable of feeling desperate.

Most importantly, trust your gut. Don’t talk yourself out of being concerned for your daughter or son. There’s no such thing as being too nosy, being overprotective, or being excessively loving. These conversations are difficult for everyone involved, but it’s significantly more difficult if you DON’T have those conversations and they do something they can’t take back.

Finally, don’t tell your kid that committing suicide is selfish or that it goes against God. THAT’S NOT HELPFUL. Guilt has never made someone feel better. It just adds kindle to the flames of self-hate. Let them know they aren’t alone, they are cherished.

Let them know its okay to be sad but it’s NOT OK to be sad and alone.

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