I hate that this topic is even something parents have to think about, but unfortunately there are times you may need to start talking to your kids about suicide. Suicide is a major concern for people of all ages. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Over 40,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States; it is the 10th leading cause of death overall.”
Whether your child hears something on the radio or tv, you start talking about prevention, or if they know of someone who has ended their life this way, it’s possible you’ll have to discuss this topic at in some way with your child when they are younger.
Here’s some things to think about when parents have to start talking to your kids about suicide after someone has ended their life this way:
- Explain that the person’s brain who committed suicide was not thinking clearly- that’s what depression does. It changes a person’s thinking to make decisions that don’t make sense to someone without it. Help them understand that you’ll never make sense of it because your brain doesn’t think that way.
- Don’t try to explain it away. There are no answers that make sense.
- Be honest about what happened without getting into the details. You don’t want them to hear more from others talking about it around them. Parents may have to decide how much to share or not. Just remember that others may fill in the blanks when you aren’t around. You want to be the controller of the information the first time your child hears it if possible so you can support them in the moment.
- Empathize by saying something like, “I know this is so shocking, confusing, and very sad.”
- Ask if there’s something your child thinks you guys could do for the grieving family- pray, write a card, take them a meal, etc.
- Check in with your child every so often. Ask something like, “How are you feeling about ____ and everything that happened? Let me know if you have any questions or if you want to talk about it anytime. I’m always here to answer your questions and support you.
Grieving after a suicide can be messy and complicated. It will introduce your kids to some hard concepts you weren’t possibly ready to discuss. If you notice you or your child needs additional support and help dealing with the aftermath of suicide, reach out to a professional immediately. It’s always good to have a 3rd party who isn’t involved emotionally to guide you and process with you.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call a trusted loved one immediately or call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone.