TRIGGER WARNING: This blog mentions suicide and may be upsetting in nature. If you need to talk to someone after reading this article, call the Samaritans FREE on 116 123, 24/7
It’s not unusual to hear the phrase ‘children should be seen and not heard’ get bounced around amongst adults. Whilst largely intended to be a harmless expression, the fact it was coined in the 15th century suggests it’s perhaps time we left it in the dark ages.
And with World Suicide Prevention Day fast approaching, I’ve given great thought to the theme of ‘Creating Hope Through Action’ and how we as parents, carers or influential adults can do our bit to prevent suicides in young people through early intervention.
Clearly suicide isn’t a light subject matter or something that is likely to be a focal point around the family dinner table. So how do we create hope through action if we lock this ‘taboo’ in a figurative box?
We don’t have to be qualified mental health professionals to help people before they hit crisis point. We just need to be able to communicate and listen.
The language of communication
Communication comes in many forms – verbal, written, body language and silence – to name a few. And whilst not an obvious one, silence is a form of communication, and it can say huge amounts about someone’s emotional wellbeing.
It’s not always easy to talk and express how we feel, and this is often particularly difficult for children and young people. A fear of being judged, misunderstood, dismissed, or even letting a loved one down can prevent young people from reaching out and asking for support.
This can lead to emotions being expressed in ways that can seem destructive or out of character. In turn, this might result in the wrong reactions from adults. In other words, a vicious cycle.
Normalising mental health and creating safe spaces to talk and express are so important during early intervention, not to mention when supporting them to build resilience.
If your child shuts you out
However, I’m sure many people reading this can relate to feeling hopeless because their child shuts them out or refuses to talk. Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone.
Here’s where some essential skills can make a huge difference.
But first, it’s fundamental we eradicate the myth that talking about suicide, suicidal thoughts or self-harm will give people ideas to try it. The reality is those thinking about these things are unlikely to share their feelings through fear of being a burden.
Secondly, while we may know our young people really well, they know themselves better. It’s essential we approach this without a view to lecture or dictate, but instead listen and help them find solutions themselves by supporting them in a way that suits them.
5 essential skills…
Here’s my top 5 essential takeaway skills to help you start the conversation and deal with difficult disclosures:
- If starting a conversation is proving difficult, turn to an activity instead. Take a walk or a drive, listening to music or playing a game can give you both a chance to relax. This can encourage a conversation because it feels less forced.
- If they don’t want to talk right now, then don’t force it. Instead, let them know you’re there for them when they feel ready. Reassure them that you’ll do your very best to help them. Alternatively, trying a different communication method can be comfortable. Writing letters or sending text messages, for example.
- “They just won’t open up to me.” There may be another trusted adult in their lives that they feel more comfortable around when it comes to sharing their feelings. Alternatively, text lines or online support can feel less scary because they’re anonymous and free of judgement.
- You suspect your child has suicidal thoughts, but you’re scared to talk about it. If you’re scared, they will be more so. Break the ice and instigate saying the word through questions like: “It sounds like life is very tough for you. Are you feeling suicidal?” It’s important to address it square on to reassure them. Whatever they say in response, take it seriously, reassure and empathise with them. They need to know they’re not in trouble for feeling this way. This is a positive step in the right direction that will help you when seeking professional help.
- “I feel helpless knowing my child feels this way.” In order to support them, you have to support yourself. Handling something like this is daunting, exhausting and a huge responsibility. You cannot be responsible for their welfare 24/7 and deserve a break and support yourself. As much as it’s good for them to talk, it’s also good for you too. There are helplines for parents, such as Young Minds – that will help talk you through difficult situations.
Normalising conversations like these aren’t just for once-a-year occurrences when a calendar day like World Suicide Prevention Day prompts us to. They should be an all year-round activity.
Whether it’s part of your routine or a quick check-in on the school run, the more young people feel safe to talk, the more this early intervention will fundamentally save lives. After all, it’s good to talk.
If a young person’s life is at risk or you do not feel like you can keep them safe, please call 999 or take them to your nearest A&E. Don’t leave them, keep them safe.
Follow this link for Crisis information.
If you need emotional support, take note of the following FREE numbers:
- Samaritans – 24/7 listening helpline: Call 116 123
- SHOUT – 24/7 Crisis text service: Text “SHOUT” to 85258
- Connection – Dorset’s 24/7 Helpline: Call 0800 652 0190
Find out more about the talking therapies, wellbeing check-ins, support groups and education support that Dorset Mind Your Head offer young people from 11 upwards. Follow this link to our dedicated website for young people, parents and teachers.
Huge thanks to our author and CYP Services Manager, Tia, for taking the time to share her thoughts on how to start difficult conversations.