VOICES OF DAVIDSON
A Dark Dawn
By Jaletta Albright Desmond, Davidson LifeLine president
As the day dawned Monday, September 7, crushing and blinding darkness fell on another family in our town. Another family is grieving the suicide death of a teen, another group of friends will be missing one of their own for years to come, and our schools and community are wondering what more we can do to stop this from happening again. And again.
Our hearts are breaking. Our minds are sagging under the weight of this news. We struggle to keep our spirits from shattering.
First, please show his family and friends unconditional love and support. Please do not judge or criticize. Please still your fingers if they want to send a text with some tidbit you heard from a friend of a friend of a neighbor. Even nearby neighbors don’t truly know what’s going on inside a home, inside a family. The people who did truly know us showed up and supported us, building a wall and digging a moat to keep out the rest. I had friends who told me this could’ve been their family. They were blunt and honest and they were right. And it seems my daughter’s death stopped the suicidal ideation that was coursing through the veins of those young people.
They are all, thankfully, still here.
Second, get online right now and read articles, order books, and learn about suicide, suicide prevention, and what not to say in the aftermath of a suicide death. Please read the links at the bottom of the article.
Third, take a suicide prevention class. Take a training in mental health. Davidson LifeLine and the Town of Davidson are offering them regularly, especially in the next few months. Sign up. If you can’t afford it, let us know and we will provide a scholarship. Invite us to bring the class to your faith community, school, book club, business. We are teaching in-person and via Zoom. Take a class so you can recognize the signs of mental distress, suicidal ideation, and also to better understand mental health issues. You might be able to help someone and save a life.
Fourth, call your parents, return a call to a friend, message or text someone…just check in to make sure they are okay and really listen to what they aren’t saying. And have a conversation with your kids around the dinner table, letting them know they can tell you or another trusted adult their scariest thoughts and it’ll be all right, that no one will treat them like they are “crazy” and cart them off. Applaud them for trusting others to help them, for being brave enough to share their feelings, for staying and not leaving forever. Tell them, too, if they are worried about a friend to tell a trusted adult about that, as well.
If someone, even your beloved child whose breath sustains you and you can’t imagine losing, if anyone starts talking about suicide, try not to over react or under react. Listen. Let them tell you what is so awful. Try not to argue with them. Just listen. Don’t hush them. Listen. Try not to let your fear show because, trust me, you’ll be afraid. But push that down and just listen, because this isn’t about you. It’s about them. They need you to listen to them. When they seem to run out of words, tell them you are so sorry they feel that way. That it hurts your heart to hear how they are hurting. That you know this must be terrible, feeling this way, and you are so, so sorry. Ask gentle questions about their pain and hopelessness…let them really talk about it, draw a picture, tell a story, so you can clearly understand what is so miserable for them. This is not really the time to tell them that it’ll be better when they graduate from high school or when our society recovers from COVID restrictions. Don’t tell them that suicide is stupid. Don’t even list all the things they have to live for—not yet. Just let them talk.
When they seem emptied of words, tell them how much you love them. How much you appreciate their sharing with you and trusting you. Let them know that you know you can’t “fix it” but that they aren’t alone in this, not completely, because you imagine it feels to them that they are alone. But, and this is important, they need to know that others have been where they are and have gotten better. And, although you haven’t felt this way, you are here for them as best you can be. Maybe by that time, once they’ve poured out their pain and it has mutated into the fear you have inhaled, they will be willing to hear just a little bit about hope and the future. They may be willing to think about a day in the past when they were happy, laughing, and hopeful. But only if they’ve poured out most of the pain.
The next steps depend on the person and the age of the person, but almost always you want them to have professional help immediately. With a young person, you should move deliberately and quickly to assure they are safe and can’t act impulsively, as you seek immediate mental health care. All the while, maintain a sense of calm and let them know that this kind of thing happens literally every day, that people feel this way and get help, and that’s what you are now going to do together. It may require in-patient care. All teens and nearly all adults in crisis should seek out-patient care. There are mental health professionals—counselors, therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists—who specialize in treating suicidal people. Some adults learn to live with suicidal ideation by controlling their destructive impulse with therapy, medicine, and a regime of healthy coping skills.
I wish I knew these harsh realities when my daughter was verbally suicidal and we sought help. I wish I knew a few weeks later, when we thought she was better, that she was capable of making an impulsive and deadly decision one Tuesday evening, even though she’d come home from school having “a good day” just a few hours earlier.
I am trying to shed light on this dark topic during a dark time. I don’t want another family to face crushing, blinding darkness as the dawn breaks on another day.
Mental Health America https://www.mhanational.org/
National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms
American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide https://www.afsp.org/story/how-to-talk-to-a-suicide-loss-survivor-a-realconvo-guide-from-afsp
Alliance of Hope https://allianceofhope.org/the-survivor-experience/
Online Training Available
QPR (Question-Persuade-Refer (a 90 minute course)
Mental Health First Aid (a daylong training session)