None of us want to talk about suicide, but lots of us are thinking about it. A 2009 study by SAMHSA found that 8.3 million adults in the United States had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year. That’s a lot of people–and it’s just for one year. The study also found that 2.3 million American adults made a plan for suicide in the past year. And 1.1 million actually attempted to kill themselves. Anyway you cut it, lots of people have suicide on their minds.
So, just like sex and drugs, suicide is something we need to be talking about with our kids. And just like sex and drugs, it’s probably something we should talk about early and often.
I don’t mean to say we need to bombard 5-year-old with the gory details of death by suicide, but emotions, mood and how they affect behavior are totally appropriate topics–even for our youngest kids.
Some tips for talking to your kids about suicide:
Keep it age appropriate.
Most late elementary, middle and high schoolers are mature enough to participate in frank conversations about depression and suicide. “Do you know what depression is?” “Do you know anyone who is really sad or depressed?” “Do you know what suicide is?” “Have you ever thought about killing yourself?” “Who can you turn to for help when you are feeling really sad, or like you want to die? [followed by ideas like teacher, school counselor, trusted neighbor, doctor, etc]. Conversations with younger kids might look something more like,“Do you ever feel sad?” “What do you do to feel better?” “Who can you talk to about your worries?”
Don’t be afraid to say it.
Even when news of a celebrity’s death by suicide isn’t on the news, it is a part of everyday language. Kids are hearing about it at school, on the radio and online. So be brave and ask clear questions like: “Have you ever thought of suicide?” or “What would you do if you had thoughts of suicide?” It does no good to beat around the bush.
Make the conversation part of everyday life.
Conversations about life’s tough topics don’t have to happen in a quiet bedroom in whispered tones. Instead, integrate the conversations into regular life: on the way to school, after soccer practice, on the way to church, while waiting for the movie to start. Take your cues from the world around you to start authentic conversations about things happening around you.