Whenever anyone takes their own life, like in the recent case of Mindy McCready, it is a frightening and tragic reminder of how serious the impact of depression can be. Research tells us that one in ten American adults are depressed and that depression is involved in at least half of all suicides. We also know that preschoolers, school-aged children and adolescents are vulnerable to depression, and that the prevalence of depression in these age groups is alarmingly high. Research shows that babies born to depressed mothers show increased irritability, lower birth weights, less attentiveness and fewer facial expressions.
We know that there is effective treatment out there for people who are struggling with depression, including psychotherapy. For parents who may be concerned that they have a child, or indeed, any family member thinking about suicide, what can they do? Here are some suggestions:
a) Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide. Talking about it is not going to put the idea in someone's mind.
b) Be willing to listen. Allow for the expression of feelings and be accepting of the feelings.
c) Be non-judgmental. Don't debate on whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad.
d) Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
e) Don't dare them to do it.
f) Don't be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
g) Offer hope that alternative are available, but do not offer glib reassurance.
h) Take action. Remove guns or medications that could cause harm.
i) Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in suicide prevention.
There are an enormous amount of resources out there for families in need of help. Hotlines include The National Suicide Hotline at 1800 SUICIDE (784-4423) as well as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1800 273-TALK (8255). The Balanced Mind Foundation and Families for Depression Awareness offers resources for families with mood disorders. Not My Kid and the Jed Foundation offers practical advice for parents whose kids are at risk for destructive behaviors. If your child expresses these feelings, don't sweep them under the rug or tell them to think positively. Take the feelings seriously, and reach out to hotlines, online groups, or mental health experts for support and guidance.