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OPINION*

When Your Child or Friend is at Risk

On occasion, I will get a call from a parent somewhere in America, scouring the Internet, looking for any answer that makes sense. The imperative: the fear that their child of any age is at risk of committing suicide.

"How do I know and what can I do?"

1. My short answer is, while you can, you should do everything you can possibly think of - all the things you will wish you had done if it turns out that your child, or anyone else you love, has in fact attempted suicide. Do everything so you will never look back in regret at not having done more. Do it NOW. Do it all, even it it makes your child or friend angry with you. Furious, even.

2. Call the police. Typically, police will make a welfare check - checking directly on the welfare of whoever you are worried about - to see if there are grounds for further action. Policemen are not experts. But they have a good sense as well as the authority to take someone into custody for a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation - even against a person's will if there appears to be cause. Shouting "I will sue you if you don't let me go!" changes nothing when the person appears to be irrational.

3. Be clear to your child that you love him or her without qualification or exception. Be clear that you will never abandon them. Be present in their lives every moment the authorities will allow. If you have any blame to admit to your child, own it quickly. Say it. Mean it.

4. Listen with empathy, without interrupting or judging so your child knows he or she has been fully heard. It doesn't matter if they are right or wrong. What is important is that you listen closely and they feel heard. Bear in mind that to the irrational, you won't appear rational.

5. Those at high risk for suicide often feel out of control in their lives, as if things will never get better, as if the burden of living will never be lifted. Your assurances can be like oxygen to your child or friend even when they doubt you. Be there early with honesty about your mistakes. We have all made them. If and when it is time to shorten the lifeline, your mental health professional will tell you.

6. As quickly as you can, get professional help. Ask for direction from your family doctor if you have one. Ask your clergy - if you don't have a clergyman, get one TODAY. You can call on the clergy of a friend who has a church. If you must, call on the clergy of ANY local church you think might work with you. On the off-chance you don't trust the advice you get, ask someone else. Ask for advice from the behavioral unit (psych ward) at the hospital evaluating your child. Ask the principal at your child's school.

But don't be the one to call your friend's employer or landlord. Let the authorities handle that because you have privacy concerns to protect.

7. Call a suicide hotline. There are hundreds of local and national numbers. For instance, try the USA National Suicide & Crisis Hotlines. If you don't trust what you hear, call someone else. Or someone else, even.

But whatever you do, don't let the opportunity pass without doing what you can to save a life. Even if they don't know it today, they will know soon enough that you cared that much.

 

*Disclaimer. I am NOT a licensed clinical psychologist or social worker. I'm just a father whose experience includes losing a son to suicide. I've spent 25+ years studying this problem and I want to share that experience.

Steve Stewart Seminars | 276 N. El Camino Real #184 | Oceanside CA 92058 | 760-298-8146/Direct 760-216-1353/Cell | www.Steve-Stewart.com/ChooseLife