How to Cope When My Son or Daughter is Suicidal
When your daughter or your son is suicidal, your hopelessness and withdrawal can begin to mirror theirs. It’s important that you can take responsibility for your own emotions and perspective and set an example of acceptance and positive motion. You can support your suicidal child by fostering trust in communication and in the best alternative paths to recovery.
Do you find yourself thinking back to times when your child was younger, when they were happy and life was less complicated? Do you find yourself wondering where you went wrong? While you think and wonder, your son or daughter is somewhere full of pain. As difficult as it is to face that pain head on, it’s so much more real and compassionate than to try to will it away. The most helpful strategies for your child who is suicidal are also the best strategies for you and your well-being.
You may feel that it’s best to strongarm the situation—to attempt to overcome their will to end their life—but this tact can end up isolating your son or daughter even more than they already are. They need compassion, and they need to be able to trust. Their long-term recovery depends on an honest, open channel of communication. As hard as it may be to witness, you need to know what’s really going on—and, as much as they may withdraw from sharing themselves vulnerably, your child does not want to be alone. Whether you need help reaching this place of trust and connection or you are there and need to know what’s next, there are knowledgeable centers and programs ready to help. Sometimes, the first important step is simply accepting and admitting, “My daughter is suicidal,” or, “My son is suicidal.”
Taking Responsibility for Your Own Feelings and Perspective
If your son or daughter is suicidal, the problems are not going to go away tomorrow, or in a week, or even in a month. The problems of depression run deeper than their present urge to end their life. Just like a serious wound or illness, the problem needs early and expert attention. But unlike a wound or other visible illness, it can feel as if you are chasing this problem, the solution always just out of reach. The chase may originate with your child’s tendency to withdraw, their fear to fully reveal themselves, but it may also originate within you.
Have you found yourself denying the severity of the problem or attempting to negotiate it away? The problem is there. It’s real, and it’s in need of committed and purposeful attention. Consider that giving acceptance and solidity to your child’s mental health disorder is the very best route to generating real, solid solutions for recovery. When you bring your son or daughter’s pain into full focus, what do you feel? Do yourself the critical service of stopping right now to give your own emotional experience the respect and attention that it deserves.
Do you feel afraid? Alone? Trapped? Breathe and allow this task of witnessing your own pain to be your priority for a moment.
If you cannot make this space and have acceptance for your own difficult and painful feelings, you will not be able to participate in a channel of open, honest communication with your child. If you cannot accept your own experience, how will you be able to accept theirs? In fact, by taking this responsibility for your own mental health with compassion, you are setting a powerful example for a lasting path of truth and trust and positive evolution through the circumstances, even the most challenging.
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Supporting Your Son or Daughter Who Is Suicidal, Starting Right Now
When suicide is on someone’s mind, it’s usually not because they want to end their life; it’s most often because they want to end their pain. That primary goal is one you can share with your child. It’s important to keep that common denominator in mind and to demonstrate for them that this shared priority persists. And when ending the pain is the primary goal, there are always alternative ways to reach that place of peace, relief, and control—even if there are moments when your son or daughter can’t seem to see any way out other than suicide.
While there are many layers and nuances to your role as a parent of a suicidal child, one of the most important things you can do is to keep the door open to alternative solutions, so your son or daughter knows and trusts that they are there. In order to keep that door open, there are certain positive and caring practices you can observe on a daily basis:
- Listen, even when it’s painful to do so. Your child is in pain, and when you reject that pain, they may feel as if you are rejecting them. Set an example of trust by making it known that you are unconditionally open to listening and that you love and accept them, no matter what.
- Leave judgment aside. The answer is not to convince them that their reasoning is flawed or that they should feel wrong, sick, or guilty. There is likely judgment already happening in their minds; don’t add to it. Remember that the only way to discover real solutions that work is to have compassion and acceptance for the real problems.
- Don’t perpetuate the isolation. Don’t be tempted to put public image or pride first. Put proactive mental health first. Your daughter or son may already be putting a lot of effort into hiding their despair and their suffering from friends and family. Set an active example of what’s most important by creating that safe and open line of communication and by accepting the challenges you face.
- Feel confident in the alternatives for addressing your child’s pain, major depression, and isolation. With suicidal ideation typically comes hopelessness. While demonstrations of hope that are too rosy, too bright can feel shortsighted and serve to ostracize someone who is already feeling isolated due to their depression, having a grip on real action steps toward healing keeps that door open for your child.
- Get expert help now. There is not a good reason to wait and see before reaching out for professional help. The problem is real and complicated, and when there is a risk of suicide, the door to healing must be unlocked right away. Experts in suicide prevention and depression recovery can show you the way and provide you and your son or daughter with real tools and support that work.
Clinging to past hopes of an uncomplicated life and a pristine path for your child takes you out of this present life—as does suicide. When overwhelming depression is the current path for your son or daughter, the best outcome is for them to walk it with unconditional support and with tools that empower them to keep moving forward with and through the pain. Hope can seem invisible and elusive at times. So can depression. These truths give us all the more reason to generate conditions of trust and honest vulnerability to travel together through the unknown. Harness your love, rather than your fear, as you take your next steps.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.