How to Lead our Children away from Suicide.

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A month ago, a child I knew well jumped from the 24th floor to her death.

She was 15 years old and a twin—the same age as my own twin girls.

In the last six months, this is the second teen suicide in our small town. The first one was a 15-year-old boy who hung himself. It was shocking and worrying. This latest one, though, hit especially close to home for me and eclipsed everything.

In the month since her suicide, I have been profoundly affected by my need to understand why it happened.

In teenagers, a major—if not the leading—cause of suicide is depression, stemming from feelings of hopelessness and not belonging. Factors leading to depression in teens are family patterns, major life changes, bullying, and harassment. It is also important to bear in mind that some children are more vulnerable biologically, their genetic predisposition making it even harder to deal with their environment.

It is difficult to accept that a girl at this young age could feel that much pain and that much despair. I fixate on how misunderstood and disconnected she must have felt. As a mother of twins, I am especially puzzled over the fact she’d left her twin. In my observation, having a twin seems to provide an added layer of support and connection. That is why leaving behind a twin seems to me such a shocking display of her sense of disconnect.

As parents, we try to fathom what happened, and most of us are engulfed by fear. There is talk of drugs. Parents are afraid of drugs—they may lead to an overdose and death. But this was not an overdose. Drugs do not lead to jumping off terraces.

It’s too easy to put the blame on drugs, or bad influences, or social media, or to criticize the parents. We can tighten the screws of parental control even more, or pretend this is not about us, and go on with our lives as usual—just more fearfully.

But this is about us. All of us.

The danger does not come from the outside. It comes from the inside. We always think that harm will come from “others.” Other children are bad influences. Other parents are neglectful. I am no child psychologist, but I am a parent who needs to understand where the danger truly is.

Whether it is alcohol, drugs, sex, or social media, we cannot control our children’s environment 100 percent of the time. What we must try to do is to eliminate the need to escape our lives.

The girl who jumped to her death was suffering.

And no one noticed.

She did not seem sad. Like all her peers, she posted smiley pictures. She had pretty clothes and good-looking vacations. She went to a good school and led an active social life.

The boy who died a few months earlier chatted to one of my daughters the evening before his suicide and showed no signs of distress. Those who saw him in school the day before said he was smiling.

This, to me, seems to be the key: our children smile while harboring suicidal thoughts.

There is a separation between our external and inner worlds.

Pain and suffering arise from a disconnect between what we feel inside and what we display to the outside world. We hide our soft spots while seeking outside validation. We feel that we can only be accepted if we hide the unattractive parts of ourselves, anything that is less than perfect. Thus, we never allow others to know us in our wholeness, and never get the satisfaction of being seen and loved for exactly who we are.

Teenagers thrive on the acceptance of their friends.

A hormonal peer may carelessly say something that will send one of my daughters spinning into a negative vortex for months, if not forever. Yet, if she shows a reaction, like tears or sadness, she is cruelly ridiculed. Our children learn to hide their feelings in order to cope.

At home, things are no less complicated. The child who excels in school or in sports is celebrated both in school and at home, making the other children feel inferior and “wrong.” When our children do not do as well as those of our friends, for example, we as parents feel inadequate, and we pass the pressure on to our kids.

It is hard work to raise children. We feel responsible for helping them become people who can successfully navigate life. And to succeed, they need to learn to live according to society’s rules and expectations.

We take our unique children with different emotional and physical needs and proceed to mold them into what is convenient for us and what “looks” good to others—which can often be contrary to their true nature. First, they have to fit into family routine, eating when it suits us, and sleeping when they are supposed to. We punish them for their temper tantrums, which are really expressions of protest. As they grow, we teach them hypocrisy, otherwise known as social etiquette. They must be pleasant and smiley, or quiet and obedient, no matter how some creepy relative makes them feel.

When we force children to act against their nature for the sake of politeness, we kill their reliance on their inner voice.

We thus instill in them a lifetime of ignoring their feelings and intuition, the only true barometer of knowing who is “good company” to keep.

Having lived in several cultures, I know that rules of behavior change from country to country. The ability to adapt is important and necessary for survival. But it is also essential to relay to our children that all rules are man-made and different cultures value different kinds of behavior. This helps to see that definitions of what is “good” and “bad” are actually quite variable, depending on the environment in which we live at the moment.

It has nothing to do with our inner being, nor should it act as a reflection of who we are.

But to be able to instill that freedom in our children, we need to free ourselves and teach by example. For that, we must become aware of and heal our own childhood wounds and feelings of inadequacy, unconsciously inflicted upon us by our own parents and environment. We must have the courage to live in our authenticity and take off the masks we wear to please others. We have to learn to love unconditionally: ourselves, our partners, and our children.

How can our children feel truly loved, when we only accept some of who they are? How can we love our children in their completeness, when we are unable to accept parts of ourselves?

Our whole society is based on disconnect from our true nature. From our lack of acceptance of the way our bodies are shaped by nature, to our complete disconnect from nature itself.

We live in the world increasingly focused on surface achievements as signs of success, from material possessions to insincere smiles, as we compete with each other. We raise humans who hate themselves for not being good enough and have no outlets to express their true feelings, seeking—right from a young age—ways to escape what we call “reality.”

When we understand that we are part of nature, perfect in our imperfection, we feel connected to something greater than our mundane lives. It is a security that comes from within.

We acquire a profound sense of respect for oneself and the gift of life. An ability to appreciate what we have, rather than wishing for what others have. An understanding of life’s cycles and shifts, and that change is normal, even if difficult. An acceptance of the inevitable ups and downs, changes in moods, and changes in circumstances.

Our children die from the disconnect with their true nature.

They instinctively kill those parts of themselves that do not fit in with what is expected of them. Suicide is just its most violent and visible display.

A sense of belonging is one of our basic needs. All humans desire being seen, understood, and loved for exactly who they are. Since adolescence is such a radical time of change, a teen’s need to belong is primal, it is where they get their sense of security.

When our children do not have their need for belonging met in a healthy place—from family, friends, clubs, and sports—they will get it in an unhealthy place, with inappropriate friends, drugs, and gangs.

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” ~ Brené Brown

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Relephant Bonus: 5 Mindful Things to Do Each Morning

 

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Author: Galina Singer
Image: David Simmonds/FlickrYoutube
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

 

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Galina Singer

From Communism to Consumerism, from Atheism to Spirituality, from Victimhood to Self-Responsibility, Galina Singer has traversed several cultures and conflicting philosophies in search for meaning. The answers came when she took the time to look within, piercing through layers of dogma and multi-cultural conditioning and uncovering her authentic voice. Today Galina investigates reasons behind the depression pandemic and how to take back control over our lives through self-knowledge and self-acceptance. By peeling away layers of societal and family conditioning Galina helps clients to re-discover their authentic voices and wake up to the lives of freedom and fulfilment. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.

Caroline Herda Sep 30, 2018 6:02pm

"I am especially puzzled over the fact she’d left her twin. In my observation, having a twin seems to provide an added layer of support and connection." As an identical twin I can tell you it can add a layer of hurt, struggle and disconnect. People always comparing, if I had a nickel for everytime I was asked, who's the evil twin, smart twin, better looking twin, fat twin, funny twin,athletic twin, on and on and on. To be constantly compared to someone you have no desire to even compete with is hard. When at 15 and just starting to figure out who you are as a individual and the world wants to only see you as one of two it's very hard. My twin and I have not spoken in years and have never been close because of the constant comparison and compition forced on us. Im glad your children have not experienced the same treatment, notice I did not call them twin girls as they are so much more than a twin!

Kristin Montgomery Jun 13, 2018 6:23pm

I have raised a 21 year old girl and a 23 1/2 year old boy. When they were in 5th and 7th grade, going to junior high and having to actually try a little, finding the work a little harder, my son tried to tell me he wasn't smart. (He is smart but lazy.) I told him then, "age for age, you are smarter than your sister but she studies and wants it so she gets A's. And you could too, you choose not to." She heard this at age 10 and said "hey, that's not very nice." I said "I never said you weren't smart, you are and you are very pretty, but throughout life you will come across people who are smarter than you, who are prettier than you and who may be funnier than you, that's just life. It's what you do with what you've got that counts." My son ended up getting two associates degrees, one in automotive and one in heavy truck & disel technician and just now got his CDL license and is working for Halliburton as a Frac Technician. (Decided he didn't like being a mechanic). My daugher will start her senior year in college this year as a mechanical engineering student and received a great scholarship to do so. She has many health problems and is treated for anxiety; due, in part, to her health issues, and the need to be on top all the time which I have lectured is not necessary but she wants to make a lot of money so she doesn't have to struggle which, to her, means she has to get good grades. Fortunately, a professor told her last semster that after college her GPA doesn't really mean anything. More importantly when they were teenagers, I was always there to talk and told them to remember, (prefaced by "I don't condone underage drinking or smoking marajuana, but") if you're drinking or smoking pot and you feel a little weird, you an alway stop. But if you take a pill and you feel weird, it's too late, you can't stop its release into your system. So think before you do anything! Over the years we have had talks about everying, sometimes they tell me more than a mom wants to know but I just listen and don't judge. I think there is some truth to this article but hopefully it doesn't get confused with teaching your children to respect your elders and other peoples things etc. That's not part of societies unspoken rules, that's just good manners.

Galina Singer Oct 10, 2017 10:22am

Thank you for your comment, Carie! Yes, every age group has its pleasures and challenges! From my own experience I think the healthiest thing to do is accept that we will never be perfect moms. And our children will never be perfect and pliable either. There will be meltdowns and mess and our buttons will be pushed, but the only advice I can really give is that of compassion, understanding and love. Someone sent this to me today and I'm happy to share it here: "My child isn't my easel to paint on, nor my diamond to polish. My child isn't my trophy to share with the world nor my badge of honor... My child is here to fumble, stumble, try and cry. Learn and mess up, fail and try again. Listen to the beat of a drum faint to our adult ears and dance to a song that revels in freedom. My task is to step aside... Heal my own wounds, fill my own bucket and let my child fly." by Shefali Tsabary.

Amy Bender Webb Oct 9, 2017 11:06pm

This article is insensitive gobbledegook from someone who pretends empathy but lacks the qualifications, the training and insight to speak on this matter. Do you understand how grotesque an injustice you have done to parents who have lost children to suicide and how seriously you are misinforming other parents who will be led to think that if they just do everything right, they can prevent the actual diseases of anxiety or depression or keep their child safe by simply loving and accepting them enough? You are dangerous and should be ashamed of this anti-science, hurtful and tone deaf garbage.

Carie Taylor Oct 9, 2017 9:39pm

I appreciate this article and the message. I only wish for more practical advise. As a mother of a sweet and audacious 3 1/2 year old, how do we have calm family meals, transition from an activity he loves without meltdowns, deny him ice cream for every meal, encourage respect and kindness for others without risking permanent psychological harm or suffering under a tantram regime?

Galina Singer Oct 9, 2017 2:26pm

Thank you for your comment, Elvira. And I am so sorry to hear about your husband. I actually do not blame anyone. And I absolutely agree with you that energy should be spent on supporting and helping surviving family members. However, I will argue that we also absolutely must spend energy on prevention. I know and agree with you that in some cases we will never fully know why and that it is unfair to assume anything. However, I refuse to believe that we are powerless in prevention, I will never agree to that. Even one life saved is worth the fight.

Elvira Barrutia Perry Oct 9, 2017 1:04pm

My husband committed suicide and if I read an article similar to this on partners I would be hurt. Too much blame placed on those left behind. I feel the the energy is better spent on supporting and helping the surviving family members. We will never fully know why, it’s unfair to assume.

Galina Singer Oct 9, 2017 9:49am

Sarah Jane Bennett Thank you so much for sharing this very important information and experience! In fact, some of my own research pointed in this direction as well. Mindfulness and the ability to detach from your thoughts and overwhelming feelings is a priceless skill for all of us. I am so happy to hear from the first source that this actually works even in extreme cases and saves lives! Thank you and lots of love, light and positive healing energies to you, too, we are all in need of it. <3

Galina Singer Oct 9, 2017 9:39am

Thank you for your comment, Victoria! It is a very painful and difficult subject. Your support means a lot.

Sarah Jane Bennett Oct 9, 2017 8:16am

As someone who grew up with suicidal feelings and thoughts, And who has struggled with mental illness, I somewhat disagree. Understanding it Does helo many to learn how to deal with it and it has done so for me. Something that has helped me a LOT is DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) It has literally saved my life. It is based on mindfullness and teaches you how to regulate your own emotions. In the beginningit frustrated me that I couldn't "get it" straight away, but now, because of the skills it has taught me I haven't made an attempt in over 5 years and have not self harmed in over 2 years. I know that everyone is different, And that this may not be the right fit for your child; But I wanted to mention it as it is something that has saved countless lives and significantly improved the lives of many. The founder Marsha Linehan has a very incredible story of overcoming a severe psychiatric issue where everyone said was hopeless and a lost cause. I suggest that you look into it. I feel that everyone could use some of the skills DBT provides regardless of their mental health and one of the things that you could look into which is. part of DBT os getting your child a "Self Sooth/Coping Skills Toolbox" for her to use when she feel overwhelmed by emotions, thoughts and or feelings. I'm sending lots of Love, Light and Positive Healing Energies to everyone who is in need of it. 💚💥

Victoria Lob Oct 9, 2017 8:12am

Lots of defensive comments.. to be expected I suppose. Your article is important, which is why it won't please everyone. Keep speaking your truth

Galina Singer Oct 9, 2017 4:21am

Thank you for your comment, Ingrid. Of course, this article is my opinion, my experience. I am not saying this is the Ultimate Truth. From numerous research I have come to realize there is no clear explanation, no difinitive answer. You may be sick to death of hearing that suicidal people appear happy, but to me as a parent that is a huge worry! If we do not see the signs of distress, how can we react in time? How can we prevent this from happening? What is the point, you ask, when we all wear social masks? THat is exactly what I am trying to address: can we have the courage to stop wearing masks that disconnect us from athentic connections? This is the synthesis of my research and my thoughts. I can only hope that some parents may find this helpful or at least food for thought.

Galina Singer Oct 9, 2017 4:14am

Christina Johns Dunmire - Thank you for your comment. Actually, you really have no idea what I went through or going through. As a parent of three teenage children in todays world, I am going through this. None of us are immune. You feel that I have no place to write about this, but I do not want to be shut out of the conversation. This concerns all of us and society as a whole. You have the right to disagree with my opinion.

Galina Singer Oct 9, 2017 4:09am

Tammy Hanks - I am sorry about what you are going through. But I am also a parent of 3 teenage children in the ages between 15-24 years old, which is the age group where the second-leading cause of death is suicide. This article from American Psychological Association (I guess you would consider them "experts") http://www.apa.org/research/action/suicide.aspx is titled Teenage Suicide is Preventable. it is stated that teen suicide is a growing health concern. Causes of suicidal distress include psychological, environmental and social factors. National suicide prevention efforts focus on awareness and education, to recognize who is at risk. The mother of the boy who hung himself, as I describe in my article, is a practicing psychologist. She did not see the sign. The girl I describe in my article was seen by a psychologist, who did not pick up on anything. Let me reassure you that I did not mean to sound judgemental. You say you live with this every day, but will you believe me if I say that I do, too? I have emotionally fragile children, I see them struggle daily. I am a concerned and frightened parent, just like you. I do not feel immune to this tragedy nor do I point fingers. In fact, that is the only reason why I did so much reasearch and self-search to write this: because I feel part of this, not outside of this. I cannot possibly cite all the sources of my research for this article, but one of them asks the question: Why are so many more teens and young adults struggle with depression than during the Great Depression? Lack of community and connection to each other is consdered a critical factor.: https://psychcentral.com/lib/increase-in-suicide-rates-and-teen-depression/ This is a difficult subject. And I do not pretend to be an expert. But from all of my research I conclude that no one seems to be. This could happen to anyone. This could happen to me. According to you I should stay out of this, but I am part of this and I want to be part of the discussion. Thank you for your comment.

Ingrid Clark Zavadoski Oct 9, 2017 3:29am

This is all conjecture, really. The truth is, the teen brain is wired for intense emotions and boundary pushing. I am sick to death of this recent push to illustrate how happy suicidal people appear in close proximity to when they commit suicide. What is the point? We all wear social masks. The message here appears to me to be "you can't be too vigilant!"

Christina Johns Dunmire Oct 9, 2017 3:17am

I agree with you 100 percent. I too have had the unfortunate experience of finding my child just in time on more than one occasion. Quite frankly, I am sick of people laying blame on the parents for whatever kids do and also just as frankly, someone who has not been through what we have been shouldn't even be writing an article about it. They simply have no frame of reference. No one understands what it's like until it happens to your child and by extension, you. People should stick to writing about what they know instead of re-victimizing our kids and us as parents.

Tammy Hanks Oct 9, 2017 1:11am

Stacey Brooks-- my heart aches for you. My child - now 16- has attempted suicide twice so your response brings me to tears. It is only because of pure luck that I found her in enough time. Otherwise my story would have the same ending as yours. I send hugs to you. My thoughts on this article-- My hope is that one day, society understands that depression is like any other illness. You would never tell parents of a diabetic that if they would only allow their child to be who they are, their diabetes would go away. Child diagnosed with cancer? If only you hadn't criticized their homework or sports performance. It's not that easy. It's the same with depression. Stop looking to point fingers or understand it. It is what it is. A disease. A disease that may one day kill my child regardless of what I do or society does. So just love. Judgement free love. Stacey made the excellent point that once a depressed person decides death is the only escape, there is little anyone can do. The suicidal feelings take over any and all other thoughts. As a parent, you are helpless. I always find it interesting that people who would never think to write an article or commment on juvenile diabetes or childhood cancer feel they have the expertise to do so when it comes to depression and suicide. I'd like to think that the author did not mean for this article to sound judgemental and assuming but to a parent who lives this every day, it came off as such to me. As Stacey said, parents already feel guilty. This article added to the guilt I already feel. Guilt that I can't fix the biochemistry of my child's brain -- no more than the parent of a diabetic can make their biochemistry change to control their glucose levels. I get that the intention was to "jolt" society into action but that implies that that fixes depression/ suicidal thoughts and actions. If only it were that easy. As a positive, I do hope articles on depression and suicide start conversations that lead to the breaking the stigma of mental health.

Galina Singer Oct 8, 2017 7:06pm

Chantelle Pence I am so sorry to hear about your terrible loss. The child I describe in this article was a daughter of a friend. I knew this girl since her birth and spent lots of time around her over the course of her life. She was a good friend of my daughters. When I heard the news of her suicide, I felt as if it happened to one of my own. I do not pretend to compare my own feelings to that of the parent going through this tragedy. However, this event affected me so profoundly that I have completely internalised it and thought about it constantly. This article is my contribution to the plight of children and families who struggle with this. This could happen to any of us. This could happen to me. Thank you so much for your kind and generous comment.

Chantelle Pence Oct 8, 2017 6:43pm

I, also, lost a child to suicide. And I blame myslef daily. So the title stings. But the article holds truth.

Galina Singer Oct 8, 2017 6:37pm

Thank you for your comment, Stacey, and I am so sorry if my title hurt you. That was not at all my intention. I am very sorry for your loss, which I understand viscerally, as a parent. I agree with you that society makes our children feel less than they are, to use your words. And that is what my title refers to: we, as society. We, parents, are as much "victims" of that same society and its tyranny of perfectionism. We suffer from it just as much as our children. Yet, society is comprised of each of us. My intention was not at all to make any parent feel guillty. I myself struggle with that role daily. I agree with everything you say here. However, the purpose of my article is a jolt to action - on all of our parts - to review how we live our lives and how we raise our children. I am not assigning blame here, on the contrary: I state that this concerns all of us, each of us. Thank you for your contribution, I respect it very much.

Stacey Brooks Oct 8, 2017 5:47pm

The title of your article is hurtful and misleading! As a parent survivor, I live every day with the guilt that I somehow am responsible for the choice my 17 year old son made. Suicide steals everything from you! It is a decision made in an instant, with little to no chance to change your mind. It's letting a bad day make a bad choice, or several bad days. The work we need to to is to educate to prevent. I had no warning, most parents that I've connected with had no warning. Society and social media is making our children feel less than they are. Everyone else looks to be having a wonderful life. We ignore what is uncomfortable and different. No one ever posts a picture of themselves home alone on a Saturday night! No one leads someone to suicide. It is often a long, hidden and ignored struggle.