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Facing a Suicide: Talking to Kids About…

I heard about another suicide. This time of an Oak Park elementary teachers who has 2 small kids. He was a local photographer who was there as many of the children became B’nai Mitzvah.

Those who knew him and even those who did not, are shocked, scared and anxious. Many are reviewing their interactions with this man to see if they missed any signs about what he was thinking. Others are wondering how someone could be considering such drastic action and they did not know it.

Parents are wondering how to help their children deal with this tragedy. Still others are wondering if they are missing signs from their own children.

Five Initial Thoughts when Dealing with Children after a Suicide:

  1. Be with them, let them talk, or cry, or just be. Suicide is confusing and it may take time for your child to open up and begin to talk about it.
  2. While most suicidal individuals give off warning signs, many of these signs are missed by even those closest to them. Scrutinizing past interactions for such signs is normal, brought about by feelings of guilt, sadness or remorse. Listen to your child, don’t dismiss his/her sadness, but remind him/her that even those closest to the person who killed himself did not recognize the signs.
  3. Most adolescents have thoughts at one time or another about suicide. It is NORMAL to have such thoughts. Let your child know that he or she can talk to you about anything. Be prepared not to “freak out” if your child shares such thoughts.
  4. If necessary, and if your child needs it, consult with a therapist who works with children. I would be glad to refer you to such individuals.
  5. Please do not hesitate to call the synagogue (818-880-4880) to talk to me. When you call, please let them know it is about a suicide and that this is very important.

Finally, allow me to offer a few pieces of information to help you in the future. When the time is right, you might want to discuss this with your child.

Some Statistics and Facts Concerning YOUTH Suicide:

  • Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young adults ages 15-24 years, following only AIDS and accidents.
  • Among college students, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.
  • Girls are 3 times more likely to ATTEMPT suicide, but boys are 5 times more likely to COMPLETE suicide. Alcohol and/or drugs are involved in 50% of adolescent suicides. Guns and overdoses are two frequently used methods. Out of every 10 suicide attempts, 9 take place in the home.
  • Recent studies indicate that nationwide more than half a million high school students attempt suicide every year.
  • Over 90% of all suicidal adolescents talk to others about their suicidal feelings. They do NOT, however, always talk to their parents, teachers, or counselors but instead talk to their FRIENDS.

Six Warning Signs
Depression and anxiety are the strongest precursors of suicide. Here are some common warning signs:

  1. Direct statements such as “I want to die” or “I don’t want to live anymore”
  2. Indirect statements such as “I want to go to sleep and never wake up” or “They’ll be sorry when I’m gone” or “Soon this pain will be over”
  3. Making final arrangements (giving away possessions, saying good-bye, etc.)
  4. Increased risk taking (reckless driving, etc.) and frequent accidents
  5. Personality changes, withdrawal, apathy, moodiness
  6. Themes of death and dying in a person’s writing and artwork

Seven Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings: How You Can Help

  1. Direct questions about suicidal feelings do not provoke suicidal behavior.
  2. When asking about suicidal feelings, find out if the person has decided how to commit suicide. The person who wants to commit suicide, who has figured out how to go about it, and who has the means to do it is in the greatest danger.
  3. Whether a suicidal person plans to succeed or is using the threat of suicide to get attention does not matter. That person needs the same help.
  4. Having made the decision to die, the suicidal person may seem very calm. That individual is still in great danger.
  5. If someone shares a suicidal intent with you, take it seriously and contact an appropriate counselor, clergyperson, parent or other responsible adult—even if it means breaking a confidence and losing a friend.
  6. If you suspect someone is going to commit suicide, don’t leave them alone.
  7. The paperback book When Living Hurts by Sol Gordon, available from the URJ Press, does an incredible job helping teens deal with depression and difficult feelings. Purchase a copy for your teen now.

Lastly, our thoughts and prayers go out to the man’s family, his students, co-workers and the community. May they find the strength and fortitude to weather the difficult days and months ahead.

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