Suicide shakes the lives of many families all over the world. Sometimes, these traumatic deaths and suffering aren’t spoken of. Other times, suicide is thrust into the spotlight.
• The high rates of veteran suicides (Veteran Affairs findings)
• The back-to-back suicide deaths of music stars and friends – Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, 41, and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, 52
• The increasing suicide rates among youth, particularly older teen girls (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings)
Children Processing Suicide
What happens when kids hear this kind of tragic news or have lost a sibling, classmate, parent or someone else they love by suicide?
“Preteens and teens understand the permanent consequences of death. They have a sense of invincibility – that nothing’s going to happen to them. That’s a complication,” explains Kathleen “Kathy” Quance, MS, CCLS, our Empath Health community counseling senior child life specialist.
She adds, “When anything big happens (in the news), it’s all you see. A challenge, especially with teens, is it can romanticize death. They see all the attention – songs, music, poems and letters (for the deceased). That also can happen if kids die by suicide. That can be scary.”
Comforting Young Survivors
What can you say to help grieving children?
In light of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month this month, Quance talks about supporting children through open and truthful conversations.
“First and foremost, it’s a loss of that person and part of a family or friendship. So often people get hung up on the shame of suicide. It’s not their fault. The hard thing is that a parent or guardian is coming from a place of love and support. They have to protect them (children),” Quance says.
Talking and Support Tips:
1. Be honest. Suicide, no matter how it occurs, is horrific. What’s dangerous is not telling them. They’ll find out from somebody who’s not a parent, guardian or someone they know or trust. They’ll think of some other story. It’s important that they don’t have nightmares or fears about something that didn’t happen.
2. Recognize. At schools, acknowledge if a child died and took his or her own life. It gives an opportunity to talk about it and depression. Even for kids who didn’t have a relationship with that child, it might bring up other losses or worries.
3. Grieve, honor and remember. I always encourage families to do something, like a special food or birthday cake, four or six months later – something just for them. They should celebrate their loved ones’ lives but also mourn.
4. Return to life. It’s important to have routines and normalcy again, especially for kids.
5. Seek community support. “Pinellas County has a crisis team for students. The Out of the Darkness Walk is a time for people to come together, not in shame. A lot of churches have bereavement groups. Various places call us for support.”
Get Help and Healing
Empath Health specializes in sudden and traumatic loss grief counseling for children, teens and adults. Call (727) 523-3451 to schedule counseling appointments or visit our calendar for support group dates.
For more help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.