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When a Friend or Family Member Attempts or Commits Suicide

Given the current cultural climate, it’s more than likely your kids will eventually come into contact with someone who is thinking about suicide. They may even lose a close friend or family member this way. When such things happen, it’s important as a parent to be available with wise and understanding counsel. You can maximize the effectiveness of those conversations by keeping the following in mind:

Know the Signs

Be aware of the various warning signs suggesting an individual might be in danger of killing himself. Keep an eye out for symptoms of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, emptiness, withdrawal, anger, and significant changes in mood or behavior. The S.L.A.P. acrostic in this section can help you evaluate the level of danger.

Talk About It

When a friend or family member has attempted suicide or died this way, sit down and talk with your children about it. Give them a chance to air their feelings. Encourage them to talk openly, to expect emotional ups and downs, and to ask deep questions about the meaning of life and death. If your kids have a friend who’s struggling emotionally or contemplating suicide, teach them how to reach out with compassion. If your child has lost someone she knows to suicide, ask her if she feels somehow responsible for her friend’s death. Does she have any “If only I’d done . . .” thoughts? She may need you to firmly tell her this message: “It’s not your fault. You may be thinking it is, but it’s not your fault.”

Use Appropriate Language

When discussing this issue, stay away from phrases like successful suicide or completed suicide. They tend to create the impression that self-destruction might be a desirable goal or objective. It’s okay to say that someone died by suicide or killed himself. On the whole, it’s best to be candid and forthright. Don’t to try to soften things with simplistic language.

Tell Someone

Kids need to understand that saving a friend’s life is more important than keeping secrets. If a suicidal acquaintance isn’t willing to discuss her feelings with a parent or some other trustworthy adult, coach your child to speak with a teacher, pastor, or counselor who’s in a position to intervene.

Lesson Complete!