Q: Last Thursday our daughter came home from school very upset.
Apparently, one of her classmates took our daughter aside and told her that she was seriously considering suicide. The young girl in question insisted that our daughter swear confidence. This was to be a secret.
In fact, our daughter tried to honour the commitment and kept information about her classmate’s intentions to herself as long as she could, but this was too big for her, and after considerable encouragement from both her father and me she finally broke and told us about her classmate.
Our daughter is stuck and wondering what she is supposed to do now.
This is a puzzle for us as well. What do you suggest we do to best advise our daughter dealing with what is a very scary intention? The last thing that any of us want is for our daughter’s classmates to successfully commit suicide.
A: Actually, the issue in question is not so much what you might advise your daughter to do, as what it is that you might do yourself with the information your daughter has given you.
She has done everything right. She listened carefully to her classmate, and when she found herself in something that was clearly “over her head,” she turned to you and her father for help.
That leaves you with a number of tasks. Your first task is to make sure that your daughter knows how very much you and her father want to support and encourage her. Because she broke the silence and talked to you about her classmate’s suicidal intention, she might very well be accused of betraying her classmate.
The odds are fairly good that your daughter’s classmate will make life uncomfortable for your daughter for the next short while.
Your daughter needs to know that you believe in her, that by telling you about her classmate she did the right thing and that you are going to stand by her regardless of what happens. She needs a ton of support.
Your second task is to tell someone else about what is going on with your daughter’s classmate.
The question is who? Ideally, you would get on the phone and make a coffee date to talk to the girl’s parents.
Think about it — wouldn’t you want to know if your own child was talking suicide to some of her friends?
Of course, no one can guarantee that the other parents will appreciate your call. They might even get defensive and be somewhat short with you. You have no control over that. Your job is to simply pass the information on to them and then back right off, leaving them with the opportunity to work through it with their daughter as they will.
If you have misgivings about the parents of your daughter’s classmate, you can avoid them and report your information to whatever are the child services serving your community.
Social workers and counsellors have the ability to make sure that the young girl in question is given the protection she needs to be as safe as she can be under her present circumstances. They might more easily approach the girl’s family than you can. That would be for them to decide.
Your final task is to learn as much as you can about suicide in adolescent children. This is not something to be taken lightly. Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause for death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24? Did you know that young people who successfully die by suicide have talked to someone about it before they died?
Did you know that our professional counsellors, with a great deal of help from supportive families, can successfully divert young people from thoughts of self-harm, or suicide?
You have a lot you can learn. The more that you, and all of us, can learn about suicide in adolescence, the better will be the world for those of our young people living in distress.
Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.