Tough Topics: How Do You Talk About Suicide and Mental Health to Kids?

 

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Last night, a very troubled man climbed on top of the pedestrian bridge near our RV park, with the intention of jumping off to end his life. My family and I regularly use the pedestrian bridge to cross over Highway 17 to go to Washington Park.

The police had Highway 17 completely shut down. Along with virtually every way to get into our RV park. Kevin ended up parking down the street and walking home.

We could see the man very clearly from the end of our driveway. Which resulted in us banishing the children back into the trailer.

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I also grabbed my camera. Why? Well, I’ve been trying really hard to improve my photography lately so I can take stellar photos for this blog. You’re welcome, my dear readers (all 10 of you. Much love).

I could also be partly insane. I mean, who grabs a camera to document (respectfully, hopefully) a potential suicide? Apparently I do, but out of sensitivity to the pain of the subject, I will only post the photos where I feel the man’s identity is reasonably protected.

Kevin’s daughter is 7, and naturally she had a million questions.

Since Kevin and I have a strict “In this house we are always honest” rule, we decided the best course of action is to be honest. But brief. No need to go into excessive detail unnecessarily, but at the same time, we are not going to lie to her. Lying would be a grave violation of one of our most important family rules.

So when she asked why she couldn’t be outside, I got down to her level, looked her in the eye, and said, “There is a very sick man on the bridge who might jump off. If he jumps off, I don’t want you to see or hear it. Because that is a memory that I don’t want you to have. That is something that you will never be able to un-see, or un-hear. Understand?”

She did, and, bless her heart, she scurried into the trailer and brought her younger brother with her.

I snapped photos, wondering if this was how a real photojournalist felt (super-mixed emotions but trying to stay detached). Kevin wandered closer to hear better.

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This went on for about 3 hours, with Kevin and I swapping turns in the trailer entertaining the kids. Kevin’s daughter only had a handful of questions, but they were good ones:

“Does he know that if he jumps off a bridge, he could die?”

*deep breath*

“Yes, that’s why he’s up there. He doesn’t want to live anymore.”

“Why?”

I remembered once reading an article from a suicide prevention nonproft (I think it was S.A.V.E? Although I’m having a hard time finding the exact article to link directly to it…) that someone posted on Facebook a while back. I couldn’t remember what to say verbatim, but I could summarize:

“Sometimes people get sick in their brain that makes them really sad, or makes them believe things that aren’t true. Just like any other part of your body can get sick, so can the brain. This man’s brain is sick and is making him believe that dying is the only way to feel better.”

“That’s sad. I hope he doesn’t jump.”

“Me too, Sweetie.” And she went to bed.

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This man, Phoenix PD’s Negotiator, quite literally saved a life last night.

The whole ordeal thankfully ended with the Phoenix Police negotiator convincing the man to come back down to safety. They loaded him in the back of a waiting ambulance and treated him for heat exhaustion. My family retired for the evening, our plans for hitting the gym and grocery store shot, but seemingly insignificant at that point.

This morning, the Kidlette asked if the man jumped. I told her he came down and was safe and she was relieved. Even though we don’t know this person, we agreed that the world is definitely a better place with this him in it.

This event ended up opening a discussion over breakfast about how this is why it is important to talk about feelings. About how, if you’re sad, it’s much better to tell someone about how you feel instead of trying to hide it inside. I promised her that we can practice talking about our strong feelings and other healthy ways to cope with strong feelings, and that she can always talk to her Mommy, Daddy, Grandparents, etc. about any feelings she has that she wants to share.

She seems pretty happy with not only the answers she got about the chaos around the RV park last night, but also the new door of frank and honest discussion that it opened.

Not a topic that Kevin or I had ever wanted to discuss with her, but in the end, I think the family is definitely more at ease. We have always had an open door, you can tell us anything policy in our home (in addition to the “we are always honest with each other” policy), but it was nice to revisit and re-address the expectation of openness in this house.

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Here are some resources available if you or a loved one are affected by or contemplating suicide:

If you are in a crisis now: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

suicide-hotline_5

Good information:

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (S.A.V.E.)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Tough Topics: How Do You Talk About Suicide and Mental Health to Kids?

  1. Suicide is definitely not an ideal topic but it sounds like you guys did a great job discussing it! It’s definitely something that has impacted my life- had a few loved ones die. Also, great photography!
    Proud to be an avid reader!

    Like

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