After a Suicide Attempt: How to Support the Child and the Family
Suicide attempts among teenagers are on the rise, and too often we hear heartbreaking stories in the news of children and teens who attempt or die by suicide. It’s easy to think that these are isolated incidents but suicide attempts among children and adolescents are actually more common than you might think.
Suicide is actually the second leading cause of death for individuals 10 to 24, according to The Jason Foundation’s Parent Resource Program, with an average of 3,041 adolescents in grades 9-12 attempting suicide each day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16% of high school students reported considering attempting suicide in the last year. Thirteen percent reported making a suicide plan and 8% said they tried to carry out the plan.
When a child or teen in your own life attempts suicide, these statistics become much more personal. It is scary, heart- wrenching, and confusing. A normal day suddenly becomes a day of urgent phone calls, a trip to the ER for an evaluation, possibly an overnight stay at the hospital for evaluation, followed by inpatient treatment. Despite the urgency of this issue, family members and friends are often at a loss for what to when their child attempts suicide.
The days following a child’s suicide attempt are filled with many strong emotions including fear, confusion, and helplessness. It’s a very stressful time focusing on managing the crisis and helping the child stabilize. With so much of the attention centered on the here and now, once the crisis has subsided, you might pause to look around and think to yourself, “Now what?” Your child is no longer actively suicidal and has been discharged from their inpatient stay, but what happens after that? There are several actions you can take to help your child continue to recover and heal even after the initial crisis has subsided.
Make Sure You Have a Good Post-Treatment Plan after a Suicide Attempt
When your child is discharged from their inpatient treatment, be sure to discuss the next steps with their inpatient treatment provider. Schedule a meeting with the provider to talk about treatment recommendations and continuation of care. Ask them if they recommend individual therapy, outpatient group therapy, or partial inpatient therapy for your child. Your provider can likely offer referrals to after-care if needed.
There are several components to a good post treatment plan including:
- setting treatment goals
- understanding treatment recommendations
- medication (if prescribed)
- support team contact information
- and an emergency plan
You can read about them in greater detail here but the key is to identify the next steps as your child is being discharged in order to ensure continuation of care.
One point you will want to make sure is covered in your child’s post treatment goals is a plan to minimize the risk of another suicide attempt by your child. Ask your provider about learning the signs and risks related to suicide attempts. And be sure to ask about how to reduce the risk inside your home (locking guns in a safe and separate from the ammunition, locking prescription medication, etc.) Your treatment plan should include a section that details this information for you.
Communicate with Your School
It is also important to be in communication with your child’s school administration to let them know that your child will be missing school during inpatient treatment, and to discuss how they can make up their work so that they don’t fall behind. If your child needs to take an extended absence from school, it will also be important to discuss the best options with your child’s school.
Your child’s school counselor will also be an important resource during this time. He or she will be able to serve a supportive role for your child and will also be able to make recommendations for how to best support your child as they ease back into their school routine. The school counselor will also be the one to check-in with your child on a regular basis to make sure that they are doing okay. Don’t hesitate to schedule regular meetings with your school counselor so that you can stay informed and update the counselor on any new developments.
Join a Support Group
You are not alone in your struggle to support your child and it is important to make the time to take care of your own needs. Caring for a child with mental health needs can be exhausting and overwhelming but you aren’t alone. Meeting with other parents of children with mental health needs can give you the emotional support you need. Sharing one another’s stories and helpful strategies also fosters a sense of community that is so needed during this emotional time. If you are unsure of where to find a support group, a great place to start is your local behavioral health hospital.
With some preparation and planning, caring for a child who has attempted suicide doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Collaborating with your child’s provider and seeking community and professional support are key ingredients to making this possible. The resources are out there, it’s just a matter of seeking them out.
Julia Marie Hogan is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago. In addition to her work as a psychotherapist, she leads workshops and writes on topics related to self-care, relationships and mental health. Her book, It's Okay to Start with You is all about the power of embracing your worth and will be published in June. She is passionate about empowering individuals to be their most authentic selves. For more information, please visit juliamariehogan.com.
The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.