Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34.
This is a startling and worrisome fact.
While working in Public Behavioral Health, I have also responded to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and am a trained Suicide Specialist. I am well aware of how last-minute intervention can save someone from attempting or completing suicide.
I recently read about Nicolas Pacha, a 19-year-old student at the University of Minnesota who had completed suicide by jumping off a bridge near the University campus. His mother set up Nick’s Network of Hope that provides education and support for mental health awareness, grief and loss, and suicide prevention.
Nick had an unverified diagnosis of Asperger’s and this made it difficult for him to understand social cues, body language, and how to relate to peers. For him, the world was black and white, and he struggled with holding onto lasting friendships. Some of the signs of children struggling with Asperger’s are that they are detail-oriented, have high integrity, can also have delayed motor development, and they like being masters of routine.
They tend to have harmful psychological disorders, which typically occur during puberty or immediately thereafter. The most common disorders are anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, young Aspergians have a high rate of suicide that may be directly related to anxiety and depression.
Nick’s struggles with social isolation and his inability to develop close friendships were masked by his high IQ and that he was high-functioning. People who have Asperger’s often display intellectual interest. Nick was constantly bullied by some of his peers and this caused a lot of pain and hurt for his evolving psyche in childhood and adolescence.
Nick also struggled with his sexuality as he did not feel attracted to either of the genders. Many youngsters take time to explore their sexual orientation, and this is a normal part of growing up. But Nick was classified as a “homosexual” by his peers and his assumed sexuality became a topic of jokes.
This hurt Nick deeply and he started isolating himself even more. He had mentioned twice to his mother about feeling depressed but masked it well when questioned more about it. One day, he could not take the pain anymore, and he jumped to his death.
Suicide is a tragedy. Not just a loss.
His loving parents and sister were left to collect the pieces of his life, his memories, and had to journey to find meaning in life again.
Families of children who complete suicide have to make hard choices. They can either let the tragedy whiff away all of the joy, love, and hope from their life—or let it make them more compassionate and supportive toward those who could be struggling too.
Looking back at many of the distress calls that I have answered of youngsters on NSPL, I feel that we need to teach our children to handle failures as much as we make them read books about achieving goals and having ambitions.
Here’s what we can do:
>> Teach them kindness, empathy, and inclusion. Teach them to be kind in words and actions to their peers.
>> Much is lost in the current generation in the name of excellence and the rut of expectations. The treadmill of studies and extracurricular activities is literally pushing people off bridges and buildings. Children are not learning to enjoy moments, but are kept on a constant go from soccer games to music lessons to karate classes.
>> Teach them to be grateful for all that they have; it’s an important ingredient for happiness.
>> We need to slow down and allow the children to experience and savor life. We need to teach them mindfulness. They can use their five senses daily, for a few moments, to savor the life that is present all around us—smell a flower, touch a leaf, or listen to the different kinds of birds chirping.
Most children are not taught the coping skills to handle the stress, failures, and challenges of life. It’s important that we teach our children these life-saving skills.
As parents, we need to ask if our children have these qualities:
>> Can they pick themselves up after failure?
>> Do they love themselves and others? Teach your kids to be kind, loving, and caring to themselves; otherwise, they won’t learn to do that for others.
>> Are they good at problem-solving? Do they have a positive outlook on life?
>> As parents, don’t clear the path for your children. Let them make mistakes in life; don’t sort things for them as it teaches them skills to face challenges. If they make mistakes, they learn to forgive themselves and move on. It teaches them resilience.
>> Allow kids to be disappointed if they are unable to meet the goals they had set for themselves. Learning how to handle minor failures when young will give them healthy self-esteem and pride in their accomplishments when they succeed.
>> Discuss mental health issues, age-appropriately. Sadness, depression, anxiety, overwhelm, and disappointment are some of the words that are part of the emotional vocabulary. Teach your kids to be able to identify and express their emotions.
>> Teach them to welcome healthy humor in life. It relieves stress.
We also need to know some of the risk factors related to suicide (from the CDC):
>> Family history of suicide
>> Family history of child maltreatment
>> Previous suicide attempt(s)
>> Job or financial loss
>> Loss of relationship(s)
>> History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
>> History of alcohol and substance abuse
>> Feelings of hopelessness
>> Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
>> Exposure to other instances of suicide (local, internet, or media)
>> Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
>> Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
>> Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
>> Physical illness
>> Easy access to lethal methods
>> Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts
See here for protective factors to prevent suicide and here for the warning signs of suicidal ideation.
Anyone who has suicidal ideation should have a safety plan. Parents, school social workers, and counselors can help them formulate it. Safety Plans can help reduce the number of suicides as it’s an emergency plan to implement when one is too distressed to think rationally.
This article is paraphrased (with permission) from the book, Saving ourselves from Suicide, written by Linda Pacha.
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