Teen Suicide . . . A Message to Parents!
Teen Suicide seems to be happening more and more in communities all over the country. Teens want answers, Parents are overreacting, Schools are getting blamed, and everyone wants action and a plan now. The greatest influence on our teens at the time of a teen suicide is the role a parent plays in their lives and especially at this very moment under these tragic circumstances. Parents, with their greater life experiences and wisdom, can place the events in a child’s life in its proper context or perspective. Teens look to adults for an interpretation of events, and measure the meaning of it, including the degree of danger they are in, by the reaction of their parents and other adults around them. It is critical that our teens are able to maintain a positive view of the world and a positive opinion of themselves in spite of the circumstances.
The Grieving Process:
Grieving is a natural and temporary response to an important loss. People do not respond to a death related loss in any particular stage, progression, or pace. Some believe that the process is more like a roller-coaster type pattern in which waves of various emotions are experienced. It is important to encourage children to cry if they feel sad. It can be said that when we feel really sad, letting ourselves cry is as important to our mental health as is eating when we are hungry, drinking when we are thirsty, and sleeping when we are tired.
Most individuals return to their regular routines within one to three days. Yet a sustained period of bereavement may last four to six weeks. An intermittent patters of bereavement continues in the form of painful thoughts and feelings which often resurface in the future more intensely at birth and death dates, holidays and special events, places or other experiences that are reminders of the deceased. Memories of the deceased may change or diminish over time but the deceased friend will not be forgotten.
Common Reactions to the Death of a Friend:
In addition to sadness, it is common for people to feel confusion, fear, anger, self-blame and guilt. Other common reactions include feelings of loneliness, a sense of responsibility or regret, reminders and dreams of the deceased, concentration difficulties, minor sleeping difficulties and mild somatic complaints.
What Can Parents Do?
A parent’s emotional response to a grieving teen can reduce the emotional effect or make it worse for the teen.
- Here are suggested parental responses: Be physically present, show warmth and compassion, be patient, allow the teen to talk about it, listen carefully, acknowledge feelings, show an understanding of what happened, give reasonable reassurance and follow through on promises and agreements made. Teens will try to make some sense of what happened and it is important for them to come to a resolution about the event. Carefully challenge any negative conclusions and reinforce the positive ones.
- The following parental behaviors can be harmful: Focus on self instead of the teen, deny the seriousness of the event, shrug off the teen’s feelings, tell the teen not to think or talk about it, make assumptions, overreact with anxiety or anger, withdraw from the teen, or make major changes in the normal household activities and routines.
Reactions to be concerned about:
Some teens, because of their emotional proximity to the death event, may be more prone to develop the psychological symptoms of Major Depression. There are two causes for Major Depression. One is the result of a neuro-chemical imbalance in the brain. The other results from an experience such as a significant loss. Your teen may have Major Depression if the following five (or more) symptoms have been present during the same two week period:
- Feeling really unhappy, sad or empty inside most of the day, nearly every day
- An obvious loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, friends and activities most of the day, nearly every day
(Plus 4 or more of the following)
- Weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (more than 5% of body weight in a month)
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much nearly every day
- Slowness of thought, speech and activity or extreme agitation/restlessness
- Feelings of low energy or fatigue nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, shame or a lot of guilt nearly every day
- Difficulty concentrating, making basic decisions and doing school work nearly every day
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Other undesirable reactions include denial, social alienation, escape from reminders of the deceased, numbing of feelings, ex. using drugs or alcohol, hostility or antisocial activities, a preoccupation or fascination with death and unnecessary risk taking behaviors.
If you are concerned about your teen you may want to contact your family physician, or a psychologist or social worker in your teen’s school or community.