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Youth Suicide and Self Harm – How to help a child

I am heart broken and disturbed by the news that a girl as young as 10 years of age felt there was no other option but to take her life this week.

I was horrified to hear that over 50 young people present to hospital with self harming injuries in Australia each week.

Holy cow! That surely cannot be right?!

I totally want to be sensitive to each and every case here… I want to acknowledge that we just don’t have the whys and the story for each person, or have the time to pick it all apart..

However, we, as adults, parents, teachers, doctors, carer(s), grandparents, coaches and community members need to stop and take a look at the kids we are sharing our lives with and start looking for signs of distress because clearly some young people find it hard to ask for help

or perhaps they just have stopped asking…

because we’ve failed to listen to their attempts.

We, as a society have failed when these numbers exist, when any young person takes their life.

We are just not listening!  To words, body language and behaviours.

Before you start saying the government has to do more, I say that’s bull…

The government’s place is not in families and individuals lives at this micro level… we don’t need them to dictate our every move, and putting more counsellors and psychologists and mental health professionals just treats the end result and not the cause of the problems.

We, as individuals, need to step up and spot the signs of distress and start helping instead of ignoring or hoping someone else “more experienced” will do something… because we can’t ignore it any longer.

Signs of distress are easy to identify!

If a child you live with, work with or coach or teach is displaying

  • a change of mood, attitude and behaviour
  • an increase in risky behaviour
  • a need to hide body parts under clothing despite the warm weather
  • seemingly irrational behaviour towards others
  • withdraws from talking to you and others
  • a reluctance to talk about their problems

Then these are signs that they are in distress.

An adults typical approach to a child’s distress is to shut them down by dealing with the behaviour (symptom that there is a problem) and not the cause.

Generally by doing one of the following communication blockers:

12 Steps to Blocking Helpful

 

Is it no wonder they stop coming to adults for help?!

No one is helping them!  No one is allowing them to express their emotions and drill down on what the cause is.

How to help a young person considering suicide, self harming or in general distress

Let’s

  • NOT wait for them to pipe up and talk to us, let’s notice the change and send a signal that we can see their pain.
  • Leave behind any questions that begin with “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you ______ ?”
  • Ignore the behavioural problem for the moment and go for the cause of the behaviour instead!

A simple statement…

I see you're struggling... reach out to prevent suicide

Listen to them!

Listening involves stepping into their shoes and feeling what they are going through for that moment, then naming the experience for them.

Name it to tame it..

When emotions are named and when the situation is labelled it helps the child feel understood… creates connection…  and it also calms their emotional brain.

Even when they don’t tell you what’s up you can name that feeling too…

Admit sometimes it's scared to talk about suicide

This is more than likely to come up if YOU’VE BEEN AN UNRELIABLE LISTENER or the young person has a lot of non listeners in their life.

Be there for them… acknowledge how hard it is to speak about some things… how scary it can be…

Assure them you’re ready to listen…

Help them find support - suicide

Allow them to set the pace and you match it with your words, your body language and your voice.

If they are angry, let them express it!

If they are sad, let them cry… don’t try to stop them PLEASE!

Any time we want to stop them from experiencing and uncomfortable feeling, that’s our stuff (baggage), and not theirs.  It’s our fears, our discomfort, our feeling of helplessness, our feelings of inadequacy and shame.  It gets in the way of being there for them!

STOP IT… don’t project your fears onto them and expect them to make you feel good and snap out of it!

The worst you can do is to shame them when they feel so bad already (yes it happens).  One client who was suicidal told me that his brother got so angry at him for attempting suicide and told him off…  he knew he couldn’t talk to him about his feelings ever again.  His brother made it all about himself.

Deep, connective, listening is the only way to help someone.

It speaks volumes… it builds trust… it creates a safe space to let the emotion out.

Listen without judgement - suicide

Letting it out helps defuse the emotions.  Bottling up creates a pressure cooker with an inevitable explosion.  Self harm often helps them relieve the pressure.

Let go of judgement … no matter what they say… just name their experience and their emotions for them.  Wait for their emotions to subside before you correct any miss perceptions about the situation.  Better yet, do that in another conversation!

Don't make empty promises

No platitudes please!!!

“Things will get better”, “You’ll be OK”, “It will all pass over” blah blah blah… these are just another way of shutting the emotions down and belittling their experience…

Time does heal some wounds, but some wounds remain raw for a very very long time.  We need to acknowledge that it may take time to recover and in some cases, there is no recovery.

We need to not see them as a victim, if there is no end of pain in sight, but a potential survivor…

A survivor integrates the emotions and the reality of the experience and can move beyond what has happened.

A victim is a helpless small person who has no control.

We can help them by not pushing them to “get over it” but allowing them time to process the experience…

Allow them to express their emotions fully…

Then we can help them see the bigger picture.

Explore the whole situation with them.

Offer help by standing beside them - suicide

Some issues have solutions, some do not.

Believe it or not, suicide is a solution to some people… we need to acknowledge that it is a potential solution… how about we also look at some other ones?

We need to accept all solutions or the fact that there is no solution as much as they do.

If there are possible positive solutions moving forward, help them to identify what that is for themselves.  Don’t give advice!  Your advice applies to your life and not theirs.  You can point out something they may not see, but just don’t tell them what to do.

If we really want to help them, we encourage them to think for themselves, to brainstorm little or big steps towards becoming a survivor.

If every person could just do this for the young people in their lives, children, students, team members, colleagues, family and friends, then we may be able to reduce the amount of people who feel so desperate, so unheard, so helpless enough to take drastic steps to stop their unexpressed pain.

It’s a grassroots movement and not just left to “professionals”.

It’s up to all of us.

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