Helping a Child Survive a Suicide Crisis

Two life events recently reminded me about the need to protect children from completing suicide, and also to survive the suicide of someone in their home. On two different occasions, parents committed a homicide then completed suicide. In one case there were three children left and the other four kids. Childhood suicide and surviving suicide is a reality in our society where nearly 40,000 people will complete suicide in a given year.


As adults and leaders, what do we do to help a child survive a suicide crisis?


1. Understand Your Emotional Reaction to the Idea of Suicide

There is nothing more troubling than hearing a child  has been forced to deal with a family member or friend who has completed suicide. However, we know of children and youth who have had to face this challenge and today needs your help.


It can be so upsetting to us that our initial reaction may be denial. Hearing that a child has been confronted with the reality of suicide can produce strong emotional reactions, but we need to be sure that our emotions do not scare the child from sharing what they are feeling. In my experience, there have been times that children and youth, after having a loved one complete suicide, mention they would like to do the same thing. If our reaction is of shock, anger, or helplessness, it might cause the child to not want to open up to us as adults and leaders. Therefore, we need to understand our emotional reaction can help or hinder a child from getting the help they need.


2. Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide

Fortunately, there are usually warning signs you can identify and act upon to prevent a suicide attempt or completion.


In about 90% of all suicides, there were verbal cues, behavioral cues, and situational cues. It is a reality discovered in suicidology that if suicide is introduced into a family there is a greater risk of others completing suicide who were touched by it.


For that reason as adults and leaders we need to get educated on the warning signs of suicide and what we can do if a child, youth, or adult is thinking about suicide as an option to the pain they are currently feeling. To learn more about how you and your community, whether it is a church or a community organization, can get trained in Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Click Here! To learn about some of the warning signs of suicide Click Here!


What should you do if you observe a child or teenager with some of these warning signs?


3. Talk with the Child about Your Concerns

By being aware of changes in behavior and paying attention to what a child says, a concerned adult and leader might ask “Are you so upset that you’re thinking about not living anymore?”


If a child or teen are thinking about suicide, research tells us that they will probably say so. When children share their thoughts, they allow us to help them. Sometimes suicidal feelings and despair are detected by observing aggressive or destructive play, behavior and/or drawings by the child that depict themes of death and destruction.


Any signs or symptoms of distress that produce fear in you, should signal the need to act quickly.


4. Ask for Help

The best advice I have received as a Psychologist and Pastor is “know when to refer.”


Always know when you have reached your capacity to help a child work through suicidal thoughts and feelings. Reach out to a mental health professional or the child’s family doctor for help when you feel like you are not sure what the next steps are in helping a child.


Suicide, as difficult a subject as this is, is all of our business.


Don’t be afraid to get involved and help a child when they are suicidal or when a parent or loved one has completed suicide and introduced the idea into the home.


You could literally save a life. Simply ask “R U OK?”


Until next time,

Dr. Mike