Realize that you are not responsible.,
Take your parent seriously.,
Make sure he has support.,
Encourage your parent to pursue therapy.,
Talk to your parent about psychiatric medication.,
Intervene if immediate danger exists.,
Recognize your emotions.,
Avoid blaming yourself.,
Don’t give in to the illusion of control.,
Seek therapeutic help.,
Focus on your own life.,
Have your own support network.,
Watch for signs of suicidal behavior.,
Listen for suicidal thoughts and ideas.,
Learn about suicide’s causes.,
Understand the suicidal state of mind.
Although you want to help your parent, your parent’s mental health is not your responsibility. Having a suicidal parent is stressful enough without adding any additional burden of responsibility. Help to the extent that you can, but recognize your limits. You can aid in recovery, but it is not your responsibility to heal your parent of his mental struggles; that is the role of a therapist or counselor.
Children tend to blame themselves for a parent’s mental health. They often feel if they were just more obedient, or sensitive, or mature, (or otherwise more perfect) that they could somehow make the parent all better.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, take a less active role. Do not feel ashamed at needing to take care of yourself as well.;
, Although this may seem obvious, it’s important to show concern by asking questions if your parent talks about suicide. You won’t cause additional harm by asking caring questions.
Many people who are suicidal will come up with a specific plan. Knowing how, when, and where he plans to do it will give you key information that you can pass on to your professional mental health provider.
, Isolation is tempting for people who are feeling suicidal, but this can make the situation worse. Support your parent to the best of your ability by helping out around the house, cooking meals, cleaning, and being a supportive presence. Beyond that, ensure that there is adequate social and professional support.
Does your parent have caring friends he can talk to? Other family members? A spouse?
Does your parent have a supportive community, such as church or another social group?
If all else fails, there are crisis hotlines your parent can call to have someone to talk to. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1 (800) 273-8255. This service is freely available 24/7 and is confidential.
, Whether the cause of feeling suicidal is mental illness or something else, entering therapy can provide the kind of relationship and safe space necessary for your parent to process those problematic feelings.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an evidence-based treatment that can help your parent examine and change core beliefs/thoughts that may lead to suicidal emotions.
Interpersonal therapy is an evidence-based treatment that can assist in coping with personal relationships and help to assess and work on personality issues, reducing the desire to escape by committing suicide.
Tell your parent about therapeutic alliance, or the importance of a good patient-therapist fit. Research shows that “fit” is one of the most important aspects of patient recovery. Encourage him to look for the right therapist, even if that means “shopping around.”
Search for a therapist near you: click here.
, Prescription medications exist for many of the primary causes of suicide, such as depression and mood disorders. Have him ask his healthcare professional about medication options.
Antidepressants can help with depression, although there may also be danger of increasing suicidal thoughts, so be sure to have your parent discuss this decision with a medical professional.
Make sure your parent is following doctor’s orders with regard to any medications he is already prescribed. Quitting psychiatric medication is a delicate process that should be coordinated with a healthcare professional. Being inconsistent in taking medication or trying to stop cold turkey can cause problems such as anxiety, irritability, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
, Call emergency services, your mental healthcare professional, or tell someone close by (such as a family member or adult friend) if you think that your parent is in immediate danger from a suicidal impulse.
Wherever possible, remove dangerous objects from the house. If one of your parents owns a gun, talk to an adult (aunt, uncle, other parent) about making sure it’s safe from being easily accessed by the suicidal parent.
, Dealing with a suicidal parent can be mentally exhausting and emotionally stressful. A complex series of emotions can be the result. In order to understand what you’re feeling and find ways to cope, look for these common reactions:
Shock. A suicidal parent can come as a strong surprise. Nobody expects things to get this bad, especially with the person who is supposed to be taking care of you.
Anger. Parents are your caregivers, so it may seem unfair for you to have to deal with all this emotional stress. It’s normal to feel angry.
Guilt. You may blame yourself for what is happening simply because you are close to your parent and the real causes may be less visible.
Confusion. You may not know how to respond, so you may fall into a state of confusion over what’s going on and how to cope with the situation.
, Self-blame is a normal reaction to a parent being suicidal, but it actually stems from misunderstandings about the complexity of suicidal emotions.
The desire to commit suicide results from a number of different factors, as this guide discussed in the previous section. You are not the cause. In fact, it’s unlikely that there is one singular reason for the way your parent is feeling. Suicide is not a simple, rational choice.
, There are things you can do to help yourself and your parent, but this doesn’t mean that you have ultimate control over what happens and what has happened in the past.
The unfortunate reality is that sometimes suicide happens even when the family and extended support network has done its best to be supportive and provide a caring environment. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, because those efforts can make all the difference, but the point is that some things exist outside of our control. Do everything you can, but with the recognition that you can’t do everything.
, Therapy is not just for your parent with suicidal thoughts. A suicidal parent is an extremely taxing burden, so don’t feel bad if you need outside help.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you come to terms with the emotions and thoughts that can arise as a reaction to your situation.
Search for a therapist near you: click here.
Be sure to find a therapist you can trust and confide in. If you don’t find that person on the first try, don’t settle! Therapeutic alliance is one of the most important factors for successful therapy.
, Thinking and worrying obsessively about your parent won’t help them or you. Develop effective coping strategies to stay healthy and keep yourself from falling into the same problems as your parent. Although most of the research in this area discusses grief after an actual loss, some of it applies to the potential of loss as well:
Grief and worry are not enough, it takes continued activity to process these difficult emotions and keep your life positive. Sports, other hobbies, and spending time with friends can act as a vaccine against despair in this situation.
, In addition to professional help and maintaining an active lifestyle, don’t forget to keep in touch with your own friends and other family members! Social support is essential for your ability to cope with the high emotional demands of a suicidal parent.
, If you are worried that your parent may be considering suicide, look for these outward signs and risk factors so that you can catch the problem before it’s too late:
Past suicidal attempts. This is one of the biggest risk factors for actual suicide.
Outbursts of rage. Although this can signal other things as well, it’s a common indication of suicidal intent.
Increased risk-taking behavior, such as drinking and driving. A parent who feels suicidal may start to care less about personal safety.
, Behavior isn’t the only indication of being suicidal; you can read the signs in what he talks about as well.
Talk of suicidal intent. Your parent may explicitly state how he feels.
Self-hatred. This is a strong ingredient of suicidal thinking.
Being a burden. As many suicidal parents feel guilty, it’s likely he will feel like he is burdening those in close proximity, including you.
, Despite what some people may think, suicide is not as much of a choice as it is a combination of natural forces and factors. Some of these forces are:
Mental illness. 90% or more of people who commit suicide had a mental illness at the time of their death. The most common illnesses are depression and other mood disorders, substance abuse disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders such as bi-polar and borderline.
Serious medical issues. Cancer, HIV, and other illnesses can cause people to experience hopelessness and other desperate emotions which sometimes result in suicide.
Biological factors. Research shows that people who commit suicide often have differences in brain structure, especially the areas of the brain related to mood, thinking, and stress response.
Environmental stress. Things like prolonged bullying have been linked to an increased risk for suicide.
, Suicide is often thought of as a solution to a problem. A suicidal parent is trying to escape from a variety of problems and painful realities.
Believing that the people in their life are better off without them.
Failure to live up to personal standards. Many people who want to commit suicide are wrestling with unrealistically high standards for themselves and their lives.
Self-blame. These people blame themselves for not measuring up to the tasks of life, unrealistic or not.
High awareness of failure, so that they are constantly and painfully aware of how much they’re failing to match their ideal self.
Anxiety and pain result from these issues. The state of mind that sometimes ends in suicide is extremely painful and hard to bear.
“Cognitive deconstruction,” which refers to how people think about their lives as a simple, unchanging experience of sadness and pain.
Finally, disinhibition, or the final step that comes about when a person thinks that a drastic measure such as suicide is necessary to overcome their current predicament.