BIG SPRING – Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, West Texas Centers CEO Shelley Smith said.
“Yet parents spend more time trying to control all the other things that prevent harm to their children – child-proofing the home, making sure they eat healthy and monitoring their friends and social media,” said Smith, who also is a Licensed Master Social Worker in addition to her work as CEO of the 23-county Mental Health Authority.
“Don’t get me wrong – those are all important factors in raising a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child but so is talking to them about their feelings and the permanency of suicide. It’s not an easy subject to broach, but if you start early enough, I think it’s something that can be approached with some ease.”
Parents who talk to their children about feelings and values from a young age have less trouble broaching more complex problems as the child navigates puberty and adolescence, Smith said.
“Relationships with your children start early and can be fostered and nurtured throughout adolescence through open communication,” she said. “So when you need to reach out in times of distress, it can be done seamlessly and not appear as if you are interfering in their lives.”
“I have found many times, particularly early in my experience as a licensed master social worker that children want their parents when feelings of suicide, self-harm or despair enter their minds. Although they may push parents away at first, we urge parents to persevere and delicately navigate through all their child’s emotions.”
The most important thing parents can do is listen to their child, Smith said.
“If they talk about harming themselves, don’t ignore it,” she said. “Actively listen to them and try not to over-react. I know that’s easier said than done but remember this isn’t about you, it’s about them. Be calm. If you panic and react, you may shut them down and make it more difficult to help them in the future.”
It’s beneficial for parents to think how they will handle discussions regarding suicide in advance even if their child appears to be emotionally healthy, Smith said. That way if the topic of suicide ever comes up, they are prepared.
“We read books on how to toilet train a child or how to deliver a baby but how many people prepare for the number two leading cause of death of children?” Smith said. “It’s something to think about.”
Smith said to listen to your children and take an active part in the conversation. Ask leading questions and find out how often they feel this way and what makes them have these thoughts.
“When they say they want to commit suicide or they want to kill themselves, what do they mean? Are they frustrated? Is there a life event, such as a break-up with a special friend that has gotten them depressed or are they being bullied? Have school events made them so anxious and frustrated that they feel as if there is no way out? Get to the root of the problem.”
“We tell kids that this is the time of their lives but in actuality, it’s a very difficult time.”
“They are navigating school, grades, relationships, setting a roadmap for the rest of their lives that they believe needs to be nailed down in advance. The pressure kids put on themselves can be too much,” Smith said.
Resist the urge to be dismissive and suggest that moment will pass.
“As parents we tend to pat our children on their heads and tell them that it will be all right and that Mom or Dad will fix it,” Smith said. “This is not an easy fix. For your child to approach you takes a great deal of courage if you were lucky enough for them to talk to you in the first place.”
Then ask them what they believe is the best way to approach their feelings.
“It’s important to let them give input into how they want to proceed,” she said. “There are so many resources available. West Texas Centers has mental health workers and a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline 1-800-375-4357. You may also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Of course if a child is in immediate danger call the authorities or take them to the emergency room.”
West Texas Centers also offers Mental Health First Aid. It’s a wonderful tool for all community members to gain knowledge and understanding about mental illness, while learning how to prevent, intervene and respond appropriately when a person is experiencing a mental health. To enroll, please contact Courtney Burgans, Workforce Training Assistant, Howard College, 1001 Birdwell Lane, Big Spring, TX 79720, 432 264-5131.
It’s also a good idea for parents to monitor their child’s social media - Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat - to see if they are being bullied or experiencing unusual behavior.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, some of the signs of suicide are:
· Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
· Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
· Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
· Talking about great guilt or shame
· Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
· Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
· Talking about being a burden to others
· Using alcohol or drugs more often
· Acting anxious or agitated
· Withdrawing from family and friends
· Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
· Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
· Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
· Talking or thinking about death often
· Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
· Giving away important possessions
· Saying goodbye to friends and family
· Putting affairs in order, making a will
Some people are more at risk for suicide, Smith said. Those who live in constant pain, are diagnosed with depression or have a family history of a mental disorder.
“It’s our job to help those we love because in the end, suicide is final and there’s no second chances. What we hear time and time again after each and every tragedy, is ‘If we had only known. We have the tools to help others at West Texas Centers. Anyone can call our hotline for help. Everyone is responsible to be the voice to report and reach out.
West Texas Centers’ 24-hour mental health crisis hotline number is 1-800-375-4357.
West Texas Centers serves more than 3,000 consumers and their families each month in 23 rural counties.
West Texas Centers serves Andrews, Borden, Crane, Dawson, Fisher, Gaines, Garza, Glasscock, Howard, Kent, Loving, Martin, Mitchell, Nolan, Reeves, Runnels, Scurry, Terrell, Terry, Upton, Ward, Winkler and Yoakum counties.