The thought of suicide in these trying times is heavily impacting young adults across the country. You, as the parent, need to play a very important role in reducing the risk of your child attempting suicide. This can be accomplished through creating a mental-health-friendly environment at home, understanding the warning signs of suicide, fostering open dialogue, and knowing the resources that are available for your child.
Here are the facts:
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the second leading cause of death by college students due to untreated mental health challenges. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that boys take their lives at three to four times the rate of girls. A 2018 study conducted by the American College Health Association learned that in a 12 month period:
- 55 percent of students reported feeling like things were hopeless
- 88 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do
- 84 percent reported feeling exhausted (not from physical activity)
- 42 percent reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function
- 64 percent reported feeling overwhelming anxiety
- 13 percent seriously considered suicide in the last year
The numbers don’t lie. Statistically speaking your child’s mental health is being impacted in some way while in college and it’s important that you are there to help support and foster positive mental health.
What you can do:
- Create a mental-health-friendly home environment. This is first done by removing any stigmas that you, your spouse or any other family member have towards mental health. You will know if you have a stigma if you think about mental health as something negative—perhaps a sign of weakness—or believe that seeking professional help is just whining about your problems to a “shrink.” Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and therefore should be treated with respect and taken seriously.
- Demonstrate through your actions. As the parent, you can teach and model positive mental health habits just like you would for physical health. Taking care of your mental health could look like meditating, practicing yoga, journaling, reading self-care books, walking in nature, openly talking about your emotions, and seeking therapy when warranted. If your child sees you owning your challenges in a healthy manner and actively finding ways to improve your feelings, they will begin to understand that it’s okay to struggle and learn from their setbacks.
- Build awareness around the signs and symptoms of suicide. It is critically important that you are able to identify risk in your child as early as possible. By developing an awareness, you will be able to recognize when they are struggling and provide support. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your child about their mental health and suicide. Discussing the subject will not plant a seed of suicidal thoughts in their head. Trust me, if they are suicidal those thoughts are already there. The best step you can take is to begin to address it so they can improve. Here are the basic signs.
- Listen without judgement. I cannot emphasize how important this is. More than likely, you are not a mental health professional, and therefore are not clinically trained to diagnose the reasons why your child feels the way they feel. What’s most important when discussing suicide is that your child feels that you care about them and are there to support them. That starts with a lending and loving ear, not judgement or attempting to prescribe solutions.
- Know the resources that are available. There is always help available for your children. By making yourself aware of the resources that are available, you can gently encourage your child to seek help after having a conversation about how they feel. You can find some of those resources here.
What if my child doesn’t want to talk about it?
If your son or daughter isn’t ready to have a conversation, leave the door open by saying, “Whenever you want to talk, I’m ready to listen and support you.” Then continue to shift the culture in your household to one that is open and comfortable speaking about mental health. This starts through your vulnerability by sharing your feelings and the challenges that you deal with. When you demonstrate that it’s okay to be vulnerable, your child will be more likely to share how they feel.
It’s important that your children understand that they are not alone at times like this and that help is always available. Let them know, too that you are always there to listen. They can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. If you are interested in learning more about my College Success Coaching program, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.