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September is Suicide Awareness Month

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids, ages 15-24, and continues to be a developing concern. With roughly 1,700 adolescents annually completing suicide attempts, there has been a significant push towards increasing awareness, prevention, and support resources for students, parents, teachers and care givers. blog-suicide-awareness-main-landscape

The following outlines some warning signs as well as steps that can be taken to prevent adolescent suicide. It needs to be said that not all children who present with some of the warning signs below are suicidal, it is important that you communicate with your children and assess their individual situations and needs.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about death and dying – Discussing death can be a normative part of a child’s development, but a sudden increase or fixation of death and dying could be a warning factor
  • No future planning – As children, and adults, we plan for our futures and often discuss them with others. Individuals struggling with suicidal ideation often feel no hope for their future, and cannot express thoughts, hopes, or wishes that things could change or get better.
  • Recent loss – It is always important to support our children when they have experienced a recent loss; attuning to our child’s grieving process is an important component of supporting them.
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits – Any drastic or sudden changes to sleeping or eating habits that cannot be explained by another medical/social condition should be monitored.
  • Changes in behavior – Unexpected changes in performance at school, home, work, or with peers; often noted as “difficulty focusing.”
  • Changes in mood – Presenting as down, depressed, withdrawn, reclusive, angry or lonely can be warning signs. Some individuals also become elated or very happy prior to an attempt; emotional presentation that may be inappropriate given circumstances

Things You Can Do

Develop a positive relationship with your kids: Talk to your kids on a consistent basis about their day-to-day life; encourage appropriate expressions of emotions; provide a safe and stable home environment; spend quality time; listen without judgment.

Provide a Safe Environment: Do not keep firearms or other potentially lethal means in your home, or if necessary, keep them securely locked away without access.

Take threats seriously: Regardless if you believe this to be “real” or not, the youth is trying to express a need and reach out for support.

Provide resources and support:  For kids struggling with mental health concerns, provide access to care and support. Have access within your home to crisis hotline numbers, or emergency contacts your kids can reach out to for support.

Resources:

Suicide Prevention Toolkit: http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4669/SMA12-4669.pdf

You Matter Campaign: http://www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

References:

Berman, A., Jobes, D., & Silverman, M., (2006) Adolescent suicide: Assessment and intervention (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 456 pp.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-800-273-TALK

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (847) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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How to Talk to Children About Death

Children suffer losses from losing a pet to a family member and how a child deals withtalk-to-your-children-about-death their first loss experience can establish a pattern in their life of how they will handle future losses. Grief is not one feeling or emotion, but rather a mix of emotions that guide the person through the healing process. Children often have questions about the finality of the loss that often times are the basis of many important and needed conversations between parents and their children. A kid’s understanding about death depends on their age, life experiences, and personality.

Preschooler’s Understanding of Death

Kids at this age have a difficult time understanding that all living things die and can’t come back. Their frame of reference might be seeing their favorite video game character come back to life over and over and not realize that this does not happen in real life.

5-9 Year Old’s Understanding of Death

5 to 9 year-olds typically begin to put together the difference between video game death and real life death, but often feel like that this could not happen to them. Often children will make up situations or other stories that put them in the hero role so they do not get hurt.

9-10 Year Old’s Understanding of Death

9 or 10 year-olds through teens have the understanding of what death means and the emotions that surround when someone passes away. Children of this age want solutions to why this could happen to them but also solutions to why they feel this way. They will look for ways to overcome these difficult times so it is best at this age to be open and honest with them and help them explore this time in their lives.

Remember, children develop at individual rates and have their own personal ways of managing their emotions.

Tips on Explaining Death to Children

  1. If at all possible, let children see the person who has died.
  2. Explain to children where they will see the person and how the person is different.
  3. Use the correct language – “Grandpa has died” or “Grandma is dead”: never use euphemisms.   Do not use phrases as Grandma went to sleep or went away. These explanations can lead young children to become afraid to go to sleep or worried when parents leave the house and “go away”.
  4. Ask someone – a relative, friend, or familiar sitter – to provide care for the children during the wake, funeral or memorial service. The designated person can keep track of the children, make sure they are fed, and answer questions they may have, take them out for a break or home if the day gets too long or they’re at the limits of their attention span.
  5. Be honest with them and encourage their questions and expressions of emotions. It is important that kids know they can talk about it (even if you don’t have all the answers) and be sad, angry, scared, or whatever emotions they feel.
  6. Kids often will repeatedly ask the same questions; it is how they process information. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly tell them that the person has died and can’t come back. Also, do not discourage their questions by telling them they are too young.
  7. Using the word “sickness” can be scary to young children. It is often helpful to explain to children that serious illnesses may cause death and although we all get sick sometimes, we usually get better again.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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How to Help Your Child Cope with the Suicide of a Friend

For a child losing a friend through suicide brings up a lot of questions and emotions, such as why did this happen or what could have been done? A teen or adolescent may have copingwithsuicide-mainmany mixed feelings or may feel “numb.” Whatever they are feeling, your role as the parent is to help them and be supportive. Reassure the child whatever feelings they might experience, they have permission to let them out. If they want to keep to themselves for a while, let them. Don’t tell a child how they should or should not feel. Also, don’t discourage them from expressing negative emotions like anger. Talking about suicide will not increase the risk that others will go on to take their own lives. In fact, like a death from any other serious illness, suicide is now part of the family’s health history. Knowing the truth about mental illness and suicide enables all surviving family members to be appropriately vigilant about their own health moving forward, and take preventative steps.

Although it’s understandable that adults naturally wish to protect children from pain or bad news, shielding children from the truth can undermine trust and create a legacy of secrecy and shame that can persist for generations. You can protect children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and honest answers to their questions.

A child may experience the following feelings and that’s okay:

  • Abandoned – that the person who died didn’t love them.
  • Feel the death is their fault – if they would have loved the person more or behaved differently.
  • Afraid that they will die too.
  • Worried that someone else they love will die or worry about who will take care of them.
  • Guilt – because they wished or thought of the person’s death.
  • Sad.
  • Embarrassed – to see other people or to go back to school.
  • Confused.
  • Angry – with the person who died, at everyone.
  • Lonely.
  • Denial – pretend like nothing happened.
  • Numb – can’t feel anything.
  • Wish it would all just go away.

Tips on Explaining Death to Children and Teens

  1. Use the correct language- never use euphemisms. Do not use phrases as Grandma went to sleep or went away. These explanations can lead young children to become afraid to go to sleep or worried when parents leave the house and “go away.”
  2. Be honest with them and encourage their questions and expressions of emotions. It is important that kids know they can talk about it (even if you don’t have all the answers) and be sad, angry, scared, or whatever emotions they feel.
  3. Kids often will repeatedly ask the same questions; it is how they process information. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly tell them that the person has died and can’t come back. Also, do not discourage their questions by telling them they are too young.

If you believe your child could benefit from speaking with a specialist, click here.

Resources

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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An Age by Age Guide on How to Talk to Children About the Paris Attacks

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Maternal Mental Health after the Loss of a Child

Today’s guest blog by Stacey Porter, founder of the Tangerine Owl Project, discusses maternal mental health after the loss of a child.

I have found these last three years to be particularly trying in terms of rebalancing my life.  Three yearsmaternal mental health ago I lost an infant daughter who was born at 25 weeks gestation due to preeclampsia. That was a profoundly impactful life altering experience, and it’s made me a different person. I learned to cope, gave myself permission to grieve, and began to shape that experience into a way that I can help others in my community who are suffering through the trauma of the NICU and/or child loss.  Since then, I have started to become very in tune with the amount of pain, devastation, confliction, perseverance and hope out there for these parents. I have witnessed and talked through the anxiety and depression that looms over these mothers like dark ash and exhaust from a fire that doesn’t allow one to take a breath.  I have seen how these losses can both defeat them and strengthen them all at the same time.  I can’t explain how that’s possible, but it happens. The thing is anxiety and depression aren’t just happening for those mothers who have experienced a trauma or loss, or even post-partum depression. Maternal mental health issues effect 1 in 8 mothers out there. That is a shockingly high number, yet these issues seem to fly under the radar so well. How is that possible? I can count right now, out of the number of women I know simply through my social network and family which would mean that at least a handful of them may be experiencing this (or have at some point) that I was/am completely unaware of.  How are we supposed to support the mothers who are struggling if we don’t even know they are struggling?

I have dealt with acute depression just out of college with all the transitions happening in my life, it was too much, too fast, and I was struggling to adapt to them all. This was situational for me and I was able to find my way out of if with the help of counseling and some short term meds, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering if It’ll come back again later. In fact, I’m actually pretty surprised that the loss of my daughter didn’t throw me into a well of despair. Don’t get me wrong, I grieved….hard….. but there is a difference between grief and depression.  I have long advocated for mothers to share their stories and their grief when they suffer loss, because knowing they aren’t alone in their feelings and that how they feel is absolutely OK, no matter what those feelings are. They are theirs and they are justified. It’s not surprising that this simple act works wonders in their processing of their emotions and figuring out how to work through them in rebuilding their lives. That holds true for mothers as well.  Much like trauma and loss, anxiety, depression and other disorders that effect mental health are not picky on whose life they descend and wreak havoc.

So why the stigma?  When can someone share that they are struggling more than normal and not get chastised or written off for it? Why is it not ok for a mother who seemingly has everything to struggle with getting out of bed in the morning?  Why does it take an extreme of a mother on the news who drowned her children to call attention to mental health?

Mothers struggle with these disorders. Every. Single. Day. So, why can she not open up to her friend and say, you know, this is a really terrible day and I am not quite sure if/how I will make it through..Maybe she can, and maybe she did. But are we listening?

Parenthood is hard. Motherhood is hard. It’s not because she doesn’t want to open up, but because she is afraid. She’s afraid of what other people will think, she’s afraid at how others will react, she’s afraid of who she is being compared to, she’s afraid that if she admits it then it will be real, and maybe she’s terrified that no one will be able to help her. It takes a lot of someone to admit they are dealing with these mental health issues, and there are too many things that play into the reasons behind these disorders, (social-emotional hard wiring, upbringing, life situation, etc.) but one thing seems clear:

When they exist, perhaps the most harmful thing for them is when their feelings aren’t acknowledged (by others or by their own logic). They may already be fighting with themselves thinking:

  • “I’m just overreacting or being dramatic”
  • “Others are much worse off than me, what do I have to be depressed/anxious/upset about?”
  • “Everything’s fine, I’ll be over in a day or two”, or “I just had a hard week”
  • “I’m just tired”
  • “I’m just feeling sorry for myself”

When others say these types things to them, it further invalidates their feelings so they are less likely to either realize that there truly is a problem or feel like their feelings are not appropriate. There is a fine line in determining what is actually going on in someone’s head and how to respond to any of these statements, that’s what the professionals are trained in and there for.  What WE can do, is be a human being.

In general, it seems that people have such low tolerance and patience they don’t see all the work that is needed to combat these feelings and move through life. Some do a very good job of hiding it and the smile masks all the chaos going on in their minds. For many it is a daily battle, and we need to be wiser, we need to be more patient, and we need to be open.  Many of us are not in the business to offer professional mental health counseling to the women in our lives that struggle, but all of us are certainly able to have a conversation with our friend, our sister, our co-worker, the mom to one of our kid’s friends, etc. Much like helping a bereaved parent, you don’t have to understand what they’re going through to be able to help them.

You don’t have to fix someone’s problem for them, you just have to be there to listen should she decide today is the day she opens up to someone the real answer to that question “how are you doing?”.  Sit with her on the floor as she cries. Let her talk about her fears, celebrate the small winnings of the day if you recognize it took a tremendous amount of effort to accomplish for her.  It may take more than a friend to help her through, but being there to listen will certainly go a long way.

For far too long, there has been an undeserved stigma associated with mental health, so if you are dealing with it please don’t keep it to yourself. 1 in 8 there is likely someone right alongside of you that is sharing a similar struggle. For those of us who are lucky enough not to be struggling with this, don’t halt the conversation if it starts, and pay a little extra attention.  Depression and anxiety are called “invisible” illnesses.  Are they invisible because they are hidden so well or are they invisible because we refuse to see them?

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Losing Delilah: Rebuilding a Life for Siblings after the Loss of a Child

Today’s special guest blog by Stacey Porter, President and Founder of The Tangerine Owl Project, puts words around the indescribable event of losing a child and how she rebuilt her life with her family.

It’s the world you never imagined you’d have to live in as a parent. The world where you wake up and your child is no longer with you. I don’t just mean that they’re not a kid anymore or they’ve gone off to college and aren’t living at home anymore. I am talking about the world you’re in when your child has died.

Various sets of circumstances will define how this situation came about for your family; but in the end, losing a childthis group has experienced a flawed reality. It’s one that is unnatural, traumatic, and unfair.  Being left to pick up the pieces after a loss like this is more than difficult, it’s a rebuilding effort like nothing else you’ve ever experienced before.  It’s trying to find a shred of the person you were before you had your heart ripped away. It’s enduring the memories of happier times and wanting to master the art of time travel, so that you could go back and alter your reality, searching mindlessly for clues, wondering where things could have gone wrong. It’s riding the roller coaster of emotions as you wade through the ups, downs, halfways, and zig-zags of your grief…back and forth, over and over again, dizzying and disorienting.  It’s the new lens through which you view yourself, your family, and your life. And that’s just for YOU.

Now, imagine that you also have to tell your living child(ren) that their brother or sister has died. How does one even go about that? To many it sounds like a simple task, “Just tell them the truth”…yes, but nothing is simple. The act of even saying the words is complex, because we are still processing everything ourselves, and saying it out loud makes it real.  You may know and love your children, but you are not them. Not knowing how they will interpret the words, how they will react, and how it will effect them is not so simple at all. Truthfully, nothing can prepare you for that conversation. Since they are a wild card, allowing them the opportunity to express their feelings can go a long way.

I suffered from preeclampsia at 25 weeks gestation with my third child. It was severe enough to cause my hospitalization, where the doctors saw a continued downward trend in my health and decelerations in our baby’s heartbeat. We were faced with the decision to allow the baby to stay in utero as long as possible or to schedule a C-section for that evening. If the baby stayed in utero, they warned that things would likely go very badly, very quickly. If we did the C-section that would give us at least some control over the situation; however, chances of survival were lingering around 40%.  We chose to have the C-section and for 27 days I stayed in the NICU with our little girl.  That was an experience all its own. Then, just when things looked to be heading in the right direction, she caught a very aggressive hospital acquired bacteria. She was not able to fight it off and she became septic.  We got the earth-shattering news that there was nothing left to be done and that we should start making preparations.

Both my husband and I had called our parents and our pastor, asked them to come down, knowing that things were not looking positive.  I honestly don’t remember how our other kids got to the hospital, but I remember very clearly trying to gather up the strength to go out into the waiting room that everyone was gathered in. We had to deliver the news that we were going to turn off the ventilators…. I don’t think I spoke, I wasn’t crying because I had already sobbed enough. Instead I sat speechless and listened as my husband spoke.  I watched as my mom walked away trying to hold back her emotion and my dad followed her, while my husbands parents gave hugs and took in the information.  THEN it was time for the children to hear.  They had been there, but were happily engaged in something else that was diverting their attention and there was nothing I wanted to avoid more than causing them pain.  What would we say?  Would they understand?  How MUCH would they understand?  How do we answer the complicated questions that were bound to come in a way that would make sense to them?  Why was this happening?  Would they blame themselves?  Would they fear hospitals?  A laundry list of other questions continued to race through my head.

At the time our son was 4 ½ and our daughter was 3.  We explained (again) that Delilah was really sick and that the medicine the doctors had given her was not able to help her – she was not going to be able to come home with us. That she was so sick, she was going to die.  Our daughter wasn’t really able to understand such a heavy concept and what that really meant very well, but she saw everyone else she loved in tears and therefore welled up with tears too.  Our son gave the most surprising reaction of all…. I expected that he would kind of grasp the concept, but it affected him much more than I’d imagined.  We sat with him and he took in the words that we had said….and I remember the second it clicked for him, his expression altered from pondering to deep sadness and he began bawling.  He then said the words that haunt my memory when I think about that moment, “But I wanted to play with her and share my toys with her.”  It wasn’t a complaint; it was an astounding realization that this was reality. HIS hopes and dreams for her as his sibling were now completely dashed, and that is when my tears started again.  He asked why the doctors couldn’t make her better – a question that no one had the answer to, other than that they had tried and the bacteria that had made her sick had also made her too weak to fight.  The kids were quiet then as we continued to digest all that was about to happen, and then it was time to go say our goodbyes.

After Delilah died and we returned home, we spent a lot of time on autopilot as parents. My husband and I both did our best to return them to normalcy.  The kids were both in pre-school, so we dropped them off and picked them up, we made sure that their basic needs were met, but we really weren’t capable of much else for about two months following Delilah’s death. We did make sure to let them know they could talk about her any time they wanted and they could ask any questions they wanted.  They saw us grieve in front of them.  We chose not to hide anything from them.

When it comes to children, we often underestimate their understanding of things like this. Our first instinct is to protect them, so our gut reaction is to hide the horrible ugly messes that life throws at us. We want to shield them from the pain, anger, and confusion that we are going through, but if we do that, how will that effect them later?  My personal opinion is that it’s more damaging to “stuff it away” and not discuss at all.  Just as adults need a safe space to discuss traumatic things, kids need the same.  There are parents who will not be able to deal with that discussion right away, and there is nothing wrong with that.  It’s difficult to sort through your own processing, let alone try to communicate with your child about it in a way that is beneficial.  To the parents experiencing this, I would encourage you to find someone who your child trusts and who is ok with talk of sadness/grief to reach out and connect with them, and give them a place to talk when they need to.  Sometimes, this means a professional, but it doesn’t have to be.  Family members and friends can fill this role too.

It has been three years so far since Delilah’s death, and for us it’s been a comfort to know that she is still (and will always be) a part of our family.  We have a few pictures up at home, and the kids asked for one to have in their rooms.  We don’t discuss Delilah on a daily basis, but she’s far from forgotten. Our children still talk about her, and sometimes they ask questions about when she was in the NICU. We talk as honestly as we can about that time with them. They include her sometimes in family pictures that they draw of their own accord, which melts my heart a bit each time it happens. For children, experiencing death is part of living, and even when it is outside the natural order, it’s important to allow them to explore it and to acknowledge that they too have suffered an unimaginable shift in their lives.