This is a contributed post by Kevin Hines, author of The Art of Being Broken: How Storytelling Saves Lives
Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide.
Twenty-three years ago, at the age of 19, I leaped off the Golden Gate Bridge in an attempt to die by suicide. It is a method of attempt that is 99% fatal.
I’m so grateful and glad I lived that day.
For the last two decades, I’ve worked to help millions of people around the world fight to #BeHereTomorrow.
I want to address a critical topic that hits close to home for many of us: how to recognize the signs and provide support to parents whose kids are struggling with their mental health and brain pain, many of whom are experiencing suicidal thoughts or engaging in harmful actions.
It’s a journey I’ve walked personally, and I’m here to share some insights and guidance on this challenging but essential issue.
Open the Lines of Communication
Parents, grandparents, guardians, and trusted adults often play a central role in their children’s lives, but sometimes, they might not be aware of what’s going on beneath the surface. Encouraging open and non-judgmental communication during any child’s upbringing is key and crucial.
You should know that it’s okay to talk to your teens about their developing brain and mental health, and that they can confide with you without fear of shame or blame.
It is important to have daily time where all mobile and electronic devices are off–not just down, but off. This should be a time when everyone in the house is completely present, and engaging in conversations that matter.
Ask your teens what was the peak and pit of their day. Do it at the dinner table. Make family dinners at home a thing of reality whenever possible.
Find time with them to talk about their needs, wants, wishes, and dreams.
Ask them what the best and worst part of their day was and how you can help them cope with the latter. Do this every day before bed, ensuring that all mobile devices are plugged in and not by the bedside to be easily looked at and overwhelmed by before your teen goes to sleep. The blue light a phone or tablet gives off completely throws off a young mind’s circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. Model this for them by keeping your phone out of your room as well.
Knowledge is power.
Parents must educate themselves about brain and mental health issues, symptoms of a problem, and available resources. Understanding the basics of teenage depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can significantly affect how you approach your child’s struggles.
Parents must stay vigilant to recognize the warning signs of mental distress, dangerous thought patterns, and suicidal ideation.
These may include:
- Changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from friends and activities.
- Sudden mood swings or extreme irritability.
- Decline in school performance or a loss of interest in hobbies.
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
- Giving away possessions or making final arrangements.
Have resources available for your teens to receive professional help–and encourage them to use them.
Brain and mental health issues should be treated with the same seriousness as physical health concerns.
Seek professional help for your child if you notice any warning signs, or they talk about suicidal thoughts. Therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists can provide the necessary guidance and support.
If you cannot afford or find a professional therapist
Destroy the Discrimination of Brain Health and the Mentally Ill.
One of the most important things we can do is to fight the discrimination (STIGMA IS NOT A STRONG ENOUGH WORD) surrounding mental and brain health is to share your story or stories of hope and recovery to let parents and adults know that they are not alone. This can empower them to seek help for their child without feeling ashamed.
Foster a Supportive Environment
Parents and guardians should create a supportive and safe environment at home. Families and trusted adults should remain patient, empathetic, and understanding.
Create an environment where you foster your child’s dreams and goals, no matter how lofty. It is okay not to have all the answers, but you should underscore that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Self-Care for Parents and Guardians
Caring for a child with mental and brain health challenges can be emotionally draining. Parents need to prioritize self-care, whether it’s seeking therapy yourselves, attending support groups, or simply taking time to relax and recharge.
Modeling self-care is the most important thing we can do for our kids. Put the oxygen mask on you first, so you can be prepared to care for those you love who are growing up so fast.
Help build a network of support. Connect with other parents who have faced similar challenges. Sharing your experiences and coping strategies can be incredibly beneficial.
If medication is part of the treatment plan, ensure that you understand the importance of adherence and monitor your child’s usage. Encourage them to communicate any concerns or side effects to their healthcare provider.
If you are concerned your child may face a mental health crisis, help create a plan for them if they face a dire situation. This plan should include emergency contact numbers, steps to take if they are in immediate danger, and a list of coping strategies that have worked in the past.
We need to support families facing mental health issues
Supporting parents with children struggling with mental health challenges and suicidal thoughts is a collective responsibility.
As someone who has faced these issues personally, I know how crucial it is for all families to have guidance and understanding during potentially difficult times.
Parents can make a significant impact by being informed, empathetic, and encouraging each other to seek professional help when needed. Parents need to work together to stop the discrimination and lack of education surrounding mental well-being and brain health and ensure that every teen can find hope, healing, and recovery.
This is a contributed post by Kevin Hines, author of The Art of Being Broken: How Storytelling Saves Lives. It is a self-help book for people of all ages to help them change their brains, and thus change their lives forever.
*If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, dial 988. The 988 Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.
*Disclaimer: Kevin Hines, his presentations, and his websites do not offer personal medical, or mental health services or advice. He is not a licensed clinician, nor does he give medical or psychiatric services. Kevin’s goal is to spread a message of how he tried, through dedication and hard work, while following a treatment plan that his doctor’s, and clinicians set for him: to change his life and how he learned to live mentally well. His presentations and sites express the truth about his personal experience with having a very severe mental disease. He shares his story of how he personally rose above the statistics and is now living mentally well, as he believes you can, too.