The deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and CNN’s Anthony Bourdain this week have sparked conversations about the painful topic of how they died – by suicide.
Some of these conversations are between parents and their children – teens and even younger.
Suicides are increasing. They are up 28 percent from 1999 through 2016, according to a report issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report says nearly 45,000 people took their own lives in the United States in 2016.
And the CDC says in the rate of suicide for children ages 10 to 17 is rising even faster – up 70 percent among white children and up 77 percent among black children from 2006 to 2016.
When teens experience angst and depression, they are more likely to consider suicide than at any other point in their lives.
So how do you talk to your son or daughter about this difficult topic that is too important to ignore?
I suggest you start a conversation with your kids dealing with the tragic deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade and use this as an opportunity to discuss suicide prevention. This is never an easy conversation; in fact, it’s often very awkward between minors and adults. However, it sure beats the alternative – no conversation and no opportunity to prevent a potential suicide.
You can have this important conversation in any number of settings – over a meal, on a road trip, or on some other outing.
Initially, your child or children will probably feel a little hesitant about this conversation, but push through. And remember, this is a conversation and not an interrogation.
Be sure to allow for quiet moments and pauses, even when you feel you must interject. Today’s kids learn by “uploading” their own thoughts, not just receiving a “download” from an adult.
Below are some questions that could serve as a guide to spark a positive discussion with your kids:
Have you heard about the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain? Reports say the cause is suicide. It breaks my heart to see these reports and also see that a recent study shows an increase in suicides over the past several years. I think there are ways we can defend ourselves against these tragedies. I’d like to “think out loud” with you for a few minutes, since this is such a big issue.
What do you think causes people (even famous people) to think about suicide?
When I’m on Instagram and Facebook, sometimes I feel down about my life. Do you ever have these feelings?
Why do people often feel depressed as they post happy pics on social media?
Do you know anyone who’s thought about suicide? What happened?
What are some thoughts people likely think about when contemplating suicide?
What are some ways you think people can guard themselves from acting on suicidal thoughts?
What relationships and friendships do you think would be beneficial to people to support them in a season of suicidal thoughts?
What enables someone to hide their loneliness or angst, and later surprise people with a suicide?
What do you think are some signs of suicidal thoughts in a friend? (Some real signs are: giving things away; social withdrawal; hiding personal realities; lying; and lack of motivation).
If you see these signs in a friend or family member, what would be some ways to help them to prevent suicide? (Make sure to mention: school counselors, parents, teachers, administrators and suicide hotlines).
If someone saw these signs in you, how would you like them to help you?
When is it time to “give a friend space” and when must we intrude if we suspect someone is contemplating suicide?
What makes you most hopeful when you think about it? What experiences or actions make you most hopeful when you do it?
Steps you can take
If your child or another child you know shows signs of angst or depression – or just feeling overwhelmed – some of these steps may help them ease their anxiety:
· Encourage them to do a “technology fast.” If their phone is a source of angst, the most liberating act they can perform is get time away from it.
· Encourage them to turn “screen time” with peers into face-to-face time. Kids who socialize in person (without using a screen) are more emotionally well-adjusted.
· Help them find margins in their day. It’s easy for any kid to feel overwhelmed at the pace they keep. Enable them to cut some of their time demands.
· Talk about the unintended consequences of social media. This will spark honest discussion about our lives today.
· Collaborate on a service project. When we give our time in service to others, we find hope and purpose, and stop dwelling on personal negatives.
· Suggest they see a counselor. Therapy doesn’t have the stigma it once did. Many kids are open to talking to a professional who listens and understands.
· If your child or someone he or she knows is experiencing suicidal thoughts, let them know they can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
As I research and work with thousands of students, two realities are certain.
First, this generation of students is challenged with more mental health issues – like anxiety and depression – than any generation on record.
Second, however, is a reality that’s much more encouraging. High school students globally are more keenly interested in leadership than the previous two generations.
Think about what’s happening today: hundreds of thousands of teens are marching as activists; six have run for governor of Kansas this year; many are inventing and creating solutions that address all sorts of problems facing the world.
It’s up to us to ensure that the next generation doesn’t lose hope. Remind them that no matter how bad things seem today, there are better days ahead.