Kate Spade is the most recent celebrity to bring suicide and suicide prevention back into the spotlight. So often people close to the victim never see it coming. This is so tragic for the survivors. They are often left with feelings of blame, anger, and shame.
The New York Times quoted Kate’s husband, Andy, as saying, “Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
After beloved actor Robin Williams took his life I asked my counselor friend Lucille Zimmerman to write an article for me about How to Recognize the Difference Between Grief and Depression. Lucille provided 10 potential indicators of depression:
1. An inability to experience enjoyment
2. A grim outlook for the future
3. A persistent, uncharacteristic negative self-view
4. Inappropriate guilt and remorse
5. Feeling as if a veil or a wall separates him from others.
6. Early morning waking
7. Pronounced weight loss
8. The predominate mood is hopelessness and despair and a feeling that this dark mood will never end
9. The future is bleak
10. The person’s thoughts are almost consistently gloomy
As parents, what do we need to know?
We need to be informed. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in the U.S. (Previously it was third on the list but has moved into the second position.) It accounts for 18 percent of the deaths among those 15-24 years of age with accidents coming in at number one. The CDC states that, “Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81 percent of the deaths were males and 19 percent were females.”
As parents what can we watch for?
We can be aware of the 10 indicators of depression listed above and we can look for these warning signs:
- Thinking or talking about suicide. When a child does this, take it seriously. Sometimes we pass it off as an attention-getter or threat. Better to be safe than wrong regarding motivation. (No matter the motive, something isn’t right if this is being stated.) Investigate and get help.
- Googling ways to kill oneself. One of my parent coaching clients told me her young person found a website that describes ways for a person to take their life. (I am not going to post a link here for safety reasons.) Check your computer history if you are concerned your child may be looking into this.
- Increased use or abuse of drugs or alcohol. (Read 5 Reasons Why Teens Use Drugs and 20 Indicators of Substance Abuse.)
- Withdrawal from people and activities.
- Mood swings.
- Unusual and extreme anger.
- A lack of personal hygiene and not bathing for many days.
- Exposure to the suicide of a family member, friend, or peer.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Feelings of purposelessness.
If you see these behaviors manifesting in your child seek help. Your child may not just be sad but actually clinically depressed.
What can we do?
We can do our best to strengthen our relationship with our kids. Spend time together and talk with one another. We can share our stories of personal struggle so our kids know struggle is normal. They need to know we understand what disappointment and discouragement feels like—not to discount their experience but to empathize. We must move out of the way and allow our kids to experience unhappiness (I know we don’t like this but life is filled with both happy and unhappy stuff) and challenge so they build up their perseverance and resilience muscles. There is no shame in failure. It is the best way to learn. It is critical we impress upon our children that we love and care about them, and those feelings are NOT performance or perfection based. We can model how to navigate disappointment and express sadness in healthy and constructive ways.
Mental health issues are real and can manifest in any family. None of us are immune. One of my kids has wrestled with anxiety and depression and has contemplated suicide. This is scary stuff. There is NO shame in getting help. (By the way, she has been very public about her struggles and I have her permission to share this piece of sensitive information to help others.)
We must help our kids embrace hope and purpose. They need to know suffering is temporary and that God created them on purpose for a purpose. They need to believe they are never alone. God is always with them. He is with them in the struggles and successes. He is with them to comfort, protect, defend, care for, guide, encourage and help. God is our children’s helper. And He is ours, too.
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
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