This is one of the most challenging posts I have had to write, but I believe it is an important topic to address. I am not a mental health expert; therefore, I can’t and won’t speak in depth about the topic. However, I know I have many questions for which I am still seeking answers, so I thought I would share what I have learned in the hopes that it will help others in a similar situation.
Tuesday started out like any other day. I was in “catch up” mode after spending a long weekend in New York with my family celebrating the marriage of my cousin and his new wife. I was working in my home office when I received a text from our daughter’s school, asking us to please see our email for important information. This was an unusual text to receive so I immediately sensed that something was wrong. I pulled up my email to find a message from the Principal, informing us that they had received notification of the unexpected death of a student. The lack of details and the fact that there have been a number of students and recent graduates of this school that have died in the last year or two due to drug overdoses and/or suicide led me to believe that this might be the case again.
Sadly, my intuition was correct. Shortly after receiving the email, I texted my neighbor to share my concerns. She shared that the student was a friend of her daughter and that she had been very depressed. This morning, she confirmed that the student had taken her own life on Monday night. My heart sank and has ached all day for the student; for her family; for her friends, classmates and teachers; for my neighbor’s daughter struggling with the sudden and unexpected loss of a friend; and for my neighbor and her husband, trying to figure out how to help their daughter understand the complexities of a death due to suicide.
There are so many questions swirling through my head:
- How does a 15-year-old reach a point where she doesn’t believe her life is worth living anymore?
- How does her friend reconcile all the “should haves” running through her head, forcing her to question whether she could have said or done something to change the outcome?
- How to discuss it with my own daughter, who didn’t know the student personally but may be troubled by the loss of a classmate nonetheless?
- What to say or do to help my neighbors and their daughter through this difficult time?
In my search for some answers to these questions, I have found that there are many excellent resources about suicide prevention. (I have listed some key resources below in the event that you or someone you may know needs help.) Obviously, we want to focus our time and attention on helping those in crisis, to let them know there is hope and that they are not alone. However, we also need to provide support to those individuals who are impacted directly or indirectly through the loss of a life to suicide. I found the following helpful suggestions on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website:
- Accept their feelings: Survivors may grapple with a range of emotions such as fear, grief, shame, and anger. Be compassionate and patient and provide support without judgement or criticism.
- Refer to the lost loved one by name: Use the name of the person who has died when talking to survivors to show that you have not forgotten this important person. It can also make it easier to discuss a subject that is often stigmatized.
- Be sensitive around holidays and anniversaries: These occasions may bring forth memories of the lost loved one and emphasize their absence.
In addition, I found this helpful fact sheet for friends, family members, co-workers and others who are looking for information on how to help someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Perhaps the most important thing that any of us can do is listen – without judgment or criticism – and be patient. The surviving loved ones may want to grieve privately before accepting help but be available to them when they are ready to share.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth 15-24 years of age and the 3rd leading cause for 10-14-year-olds in the United States. Given these statistics, I fear that this may not be an isolated incident in my daughter’s high school and college tenure. For this reason, I will work even harder than I have to keep the lines of communication open with her. I want her to know that if she or any of her friends are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, that there is always help available. There is always hope.
Resources for depression and suicide prevention:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24 hours)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Over the phone crisis counseling and suicide intervention
24 Hour Crisis Line: 919-231-4525 (call or text) or 1-877-235-4525
Be the One to Save a Life Campaign