As I drove to the office in order to write this blog, a blog on suicide, Soundgarden "Fell on Black” days came on the radio. As a 90’s kid, this is one of the bands that make up the soundtrack of my life. It’s one of those bands that takes me back in time… honestly, to kind of a bleak place… growing pains of trying to figure out my place in the world, while dealing with all sorts of middle school dramas (yes, middle school).
Chris Cornell’s voice is hauntingly beautiful. A talented lyricist whose lyrics I connect most to when I am feeling down… and maybe that’s why I have always said Soundgarden wasnt one of my favorite bands… or I wasnt as excited when they were headlining festivals I wanted to attend… a love for the music, but difficult to admit that strange feeling… a depressive state that was not made easier to shake when I would listen. Sometimes I do indulge… especially when I am driving, windows down, and can turn the speakers up super loud (like today), but honestly, if I am being mindful of my mood, and it’s a bit “blah”, I will most definitely change the song.
Chris Cornell, a talented soul, with that voice, dark hair, and bright eyes… Battled addiction, anxiety, depression, and finally suicide.
I have had kids on my caseload as young as 8 talking about suicide and cutting… some have already engaged in cutting behavior, crying out that they wanted to die, and that it would be better if they died. For me, 8 year olds are typically the outliers… the average with cutting behavior, and suicidal thoughts on my caseload is about 15 (not including adults I see). These are teens who are book smart, loved by their families, at least a couple real friends, with their own talents… no distinguishable disabilities, average to above average attractiveness. I’m probably bias, but all very likable.
If you look up articles on teen suicide, they will list the signs. Change of appearance, drop in grades, change in eating patterns and sleeping patterns… losing interest in stuff they used to do… not hanging with friends you used to hear about… short, one worded answers… and yes, some of that is just childhood/teen angst… but not always… even if it’s not suicide. The two biggest recommendations for parents and teachers are take it seriously and contact a professional. If your child or teen is saying that they want to die… or use the death word…. or are cutting … YES, please take this as a serious threat, and not just normal teenage stuff as many would like to call it. This person more times than not has clinical depression and needs a combination of treatments. Speaking to a professional is important, however, there are some other things you can do to help support them.
Part of speaking to a professional is getting someone to talk, and share what’s actually happening in their head which may not be something they are accustomed to doing or want to do. I know I said this before on a blog, but in my office, fine and good are not good enough descriptive words for me. If that’s all you are getting when trying to talk to your teen, maybe writing them a text or email would be helpful. I find having someone write out what they are truly feeling in a letter format is so much more effective than trying to talk it out the first few times. Express how you are feeling, and then ask them about them. The goal is to talk it out in person…that’s a must… but to start the actual dialogue, writing is a great tool.
Once you can get your child or teen to start talking or writing the key is in how you respond. Giving advice, getting angry, saying “you know better,” “you should,” “you’re being dramatic,” “this is not the best way to get attention,” “you’re stressing me out,” is NOT going to work. Not at all. It actually will prevent the person from wanting to be honest with you in the future; it’s invalidating. Listen to what they have to say… take a breath… and then empathize. “Wow, that does sound difficult/stressful/scary/sad… can you tell me more about that… when did it start…” etc. Listen and be quiet for a minute to get your thoughts together... this is, of course, not easy, especially for caring, loving, concerned parents who just want to help.
Recent research has shown that there is a connection between emotional intelligence and suicidal thoughts/behavior. Simply put, emotional intelligence is being aware of your emotions, and learning to manage them in different situations and environments. It’s also having the ability to do this with other people. Someone who is cutting and/or has suicidal ideations is often having difficulty managing their thoughts and emotions. As a mental health professional, I do a lot of psychoeducation around emotional intelligence skills… and as parents we can do the same by modeling our own emotional intelligence:
(1) Be mindful of our own stress and how we deal with it.
(2) Bring awareness to our own emotions.
(3) Control, manage, and regulate how we deal with our own thoughts, emotions, and uncomfortable situations.
(4) Use and teach social skills with our own family and friend dilemmas that come up. (Make sure to continue to make social connections with people well into adulthood.)
(5) Empathize with others instead of openly judging.
(6) Listen to understand not to talk or give advice
(7) Allow problem solving and suggestions to be a collaborative process
Look out for Part 2 on this topic later this week where I use actual examples from the show as it is unceasingly relevant.