Johnny* is seven (7) years old, on the outside he seems intimidating – the bully, aggressive and cruel.
What people don’t see, is this little boy is dying inside. His dad died by suicide two years ago, his Mom is about to be remarried and he can’t stand the man who he sees as replacing his Dad. Not given the tools, love and support to deal with his father’s sudden death he is filled with fear, frustration, sadness, grief and anger. Emotions he is taking out on everyone around him: teachers, students, family and even his friends.
“Why did he have to die? Why did he leave me?” he thinks to himself. ”Everyone hates me, I’m an awful person and they’re all better off without me!”
This is a *FICTIONAL story, yet I ask myself how many children feel this way? Maybe not this exact scenario, maybe it’s the pain of being bullied, difficulty with homework, low self-esteem, emotional and physical changes due to puberty, depression or anxiety. Now I could fill this blog post with statistics, links and stories that show this IS happening. I am choosing not to, how accurate are the statistics anyway? How can we possibly capture how many children have suicidal ideation or thoughts? The truth is we can’t! What we CAN do is take the steps to educate ourselves, work towards reducing the stigma and TALK about it!
How do we Prevent Suicide in Children?
A myth that many hold, is that young children are just not capable of thinking of suicide or of killing themselves. Another factor is that children may not understand the concept and effect of death. In movies, games and stories children are exposed to characters dying and then reappearing, so children may feel that if they die they will come back to life as if nothing happened.
This morning I took the Tattered Teddies Workshop – Preventing Suicide in Children at the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP) in Calgary. I am proud and grateful that I have now taken all the excellent programs CSP offers. Why? Because I am being proactive, educating myself and learning everything I can, so if either of my daughters who are 12 and 8 years of age, or any of their friends, my nephews, nieces or any other children I know, show any signs of suicidal thoughts or ideation I know the steps to take.
What holds you back from educating yourself about suicide and mental illness?
I am going to be brave and brutally honest here:
- Fear of the unknown!
- The Stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide!
- Denying that maybe your child could potentially be suicidal or dealing with a psychological problem – such as depression or anxiety!
- Shame of what others may think!
These are REAL excuses, excuses that need to STOP! Children are dying by suicide and it is escalating at an alarming rate. We need and MUST talk about it, educate ourselves and build loving, open relationships with our children – so they know they are safe and have somewhere to turn to!
Even though the subject matter of the Tattered Teddies workshop is tough, the learning can save a life – possibly your own child’s! One of the take aways for me was the group sharing. In our group we had people who work directly with children in many different capacities: parent, teacher, childcare provider, counselor, therapist, paramedic. The stories shared, first hand accounts prove without a doubt suicide IS indeed happening in our children.
Do you work with Children? You need to know how to prevent suicide.
Those who work with children or live with children need to know how to speak to children about death and suicide.
- The Police Officer or Paramedic who shows up to a scene where a child is about to attempt suicide or is having thoughts, needs to be educated and have compassion.
- The Teacher who witnesses a child withdrawing, acting out or showing unhealthy behaviors needs to know the signs and how to intervene.
- The Bus Driver who takes the kids to and from school needs to know the signs of bullying, how to react and what to do.
- The Mom who is dealing with her own grief of losing a loved one needs to know the signs of grief in her own child and talk to them openly and honestly about death in an age appropriate manner.
- The Dad whose wife is depressed, needs to know how to help his children deal with it, and let them know the signs and how they can help.
- The Grandparent, Aunt or Uncle who has a child in care with them needs to know how to help them through the feelings of abandonment and not belonging.
How we stop kids killing themselves is first and foremost EDUCATION… I am grateful for the warning signs to look out for that I learned today
What are the Warning Signs?
If a child exhibits several of these warning signs it may indicate suicidal ideation:
Change in Behavior:
- Appears sad and withdrawn
- A loss of interest in activities the child usually likes.
- Losing interest in appearance.
- Change in performance at school: grades dropping, focus in class, not interacting.
- Talking about death… e.g. “I want to die.” ”I don’t want to be here anymore.”
- Wanting to skip school.
Multiple signs of depression such as:
- Crying for little to no apparent reason.
- Long term sadness
- Unexpressive and emotion-LESS
- A lack of concentration and inability to focus.
- Sleep issues: insomnia, frequent nightmares.
- Complaining about physical aches and pains – e.g. stomach aches.
- Irritable, with possible outburst of anger, frustration or helplessness.
- Loss of interest in joining activities and games.
- Lack of energy.
Behaviors that Warrant Extra Caution:
Engaging in risky behavior such as:
- Jumping from heights that could result in injury. e.g. from a house window, from a tree
- Self harm or threat of. e.g. cutting, banging head on a wall, hitting objects.
- swallowing material that is inedible.
Plans for the future such as:
- Giving away toys and things they love.
- Organizing someone to look after their pets, or something that have responsibility for.
STOP AND PAY ATTENTION when a child (or anyone for that matter):
- Talks about dying or killing her or himself.
- They have a plan: they know the steps to take.
- If you ask them “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” they admit to thinking about it.
If a child admits they have a plan, this is to be taken seriously, appropriate intervention is needed.
How do I Intervene?
If you have taken ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Training follow the intervention model. Although with children this will need to be adjusted a little for age appropriateness.
If you do not know how to intervene, contact someone who does immediately. 24 hour crisis lines across the world are prepared and willing to support and guide you through this.
If the risk is immediate contact EMERGENCY stay with the child and keep them safe.
If you work for an organization, be aware of protocols for injury and suicide prevention. If your organization does not have a Protocol for suicide prevention, advocate they do.
Basic steps of communication and relationship in any situation is of paramount importance:
- Listen without judgement and full attention
- Ask in a curious and accepting manner about how they are feeling and what’s going on for them.
- Meet them where they are at.
- Show kindness, love and compassion.
I can’t express enough how much I wish and encourage EVERYONE to learn about suicide prevention, the signs of depression and anxiety. There ARE workshops that ANYONE can attend and learn.
Be Proactive – Be part of the Solution – Be Prepared.
Help and Resources to Prevent Suicide
Important Phone Numbers Canada
Crisis Hotlines 1-800-757-7766
National Suicide Hopeline Network 1-800-784-2433
Suicide Crisis Hotlines 1-800-448-3000
Kids Help Hotline 1-800-668-6868
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD)
24 Hour Crisis Line 403.266.4357
Free Counselling available ask for Counselling intake when you call
24 Hour Support 403.264.8336
Education and Training
Centre for Suicide Prevention
Let our children and youth know:
They are not alone…
That YOU care…