The recent tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have made suicide a topic of conversation in the news and across our nation. How are you talking with your children about suicide? GCP has covered this topic over the years (“Are You OK? Focusing on Our Sons’ Mental Health” and “Saving Our Sons: Helping Them Cope with Mental Health Issues”), and we need to keep talking about it.
If you are thinking “Black people don’t commit suicide’, think again, especially with respect to young Black children. Using national data from 2001 to 2015, researchers recently determined that from 2001- 2015, suicide rates among Black 5- to 12-year-olds were about two times higher than White children. (Interestingly, this changes dramatically when the children are older, as suicide rates were 50 percent lower in Black children than White children between the ages of 13-15.) We need to talk with our children about suicide and mental health issues, and we need to have those conversations now.
So how do we have those conversations? The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide offers a series of tips for talking about this tough subject with your children:
1) Pick Your Spot. Try to have the conversation in a place and time where your child is more likely to feel like talking. They may raise the topic with you, in light of the recent celebrity suicides.
2)Have a Script in Mind: Be ready to talk about the connection between suicide and depression, and to be able to describe depression as a serious illness (versus just feeling sad). The depth of this discussion, will, of course, depend on the age of your child.
3) If This is a Tough Subject for you to talk about, Admit it. (”You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important.”) This will ease the tension for you both.
4). Listen. Don’t try to tell him or her how to feel, just ask.
5). Don’t overreact or under-react. If you overreact to something your child says you will shut down communication. Or, if you try to play it too cool, you may give the impression you are not really listening.