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My site is dedicated to helping parents of troubled children, teens, and young adults, and information is drawn from up-to-date best practices and research.  Use the search box to find information about managing challenging behaviors and self-care for parents. You really can turn your family’s lives around and help you child reach a safe, functioning adulthood.  This happens all the time.

How to Handle a Child’s Mental Health Crisis

How to Handle a Child’s Mental Health Crisis

You can sense there will be a crisis long before it happens. You have days when you’re so concerned about your child and family (and work and responsibilities) that you can’t think straight.  You can’t even spend time on little things like chatting with a friend or reading a magazine.  Your intuition says it’s only a matter of time and you won’t be able to handle it.

Before this happens, make a Crisis Plan with these priorities in order:

  1. Safety for everyone comes first
  2. Stabilization and treatment for your child
  3. Stress reduction for the family afterwards
  4. Lessons learned

What constitutes a mental health crisis?

  • When something dangerous has happened or is likely to happen because of a child’s behavior, words, plans, or triggering events that they experience.
  • Anytime a child’s behavior leads to harm or imminent harm to the child or someone else (including pets), or significant damage to property. Harm also includes emotional harm, threats, running away to unsafe places or doing unsafe things.

Trust your gut and trust your intuition.

Examples of a crisis when you must act

  • Watch. Pay attention to evidence your child has plans for suicide, which may include seeking dangerous items; or making multiple references to hating life; or they have a worsening mental state, or there’s been a prior suicide attempt.  Try this: “Use the “S” word: talk openly with your child about suicide.”
  • Look for increasingly troubled behavior over time that leads to extreme behavior:  non-stop raging, assault, repeated running away, threatening, talking about strange things, or spending too much time alone.
  • Pay attention following a traumatic event, such as someone else’s suicide or a newsworthy major tragedy. These can trigger a child to act dangerously on thoughts they already have.
  • The child runs away while psychotic, or depressed, or with a dangerous person–perhaps another troubled child–or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Psychosis of any kind including hallucinating or hearing voices; odd ideas; extreme agitation, anxiety, or paranoia; or a belief they have special powers.

The Crisis Plan

Have a crisis plan for home, school, and any other place where the child spends time.  For some, it’s also the parents’ workplace.  If a child is in college, a student adviser or someone in the campus health clinic needs to be a contact for checking in on your child.

Plan A:  call 911. You will not be bothering the police or emergency responders!

Plan B:  Answer these questions

For a runaway.  Who gets on the phone to call 911, and who goes out to look for the child and bring him or her back without mutual endangerment?  Both should know how to work with police and other community members.  There is no waiting period in a missing person’s report.  Check this article for what to say in call and do when police arrive. “How to work with police once you’ve called 911.”

Note: children have been known to behave perfectly once the police arrive, and police sometimes implicate the parents as having the problem. Don’t let this bother you.  You have demonstrated to your child that you are willing to call the police, and you’ve asserted your authority.  You might point this out to them–another episode of extreme behavior will be countered with significant action on your part. Use a neutral tone and avoid making this sound like a threat!

Who else knows your child and is trustworthy: others parents, businesses, teachers, their friends?  Are any of them able to assist you with talking to your child or keeping them safe?  Can any them help you “hold the fort” while waiting for an emergency responder?  Build a support network in advance:

Who gets on the phone and calls for extra assistance?  And is there a list of phone numbers?  Does your town or city have a crisis response team for kids?  What about a crisis line run by the mental health authority?  Check.  They are there to help.

Who should be appointed to communicate with the child?  This should be a family member or friend or teacher that the child trusts.  Communication with the right person can solve things fast, but with the wrong person can backfire, even from a parent… perhaps especially from a parent.

Who should step in and break up a fight, physical or emotional?  And what specifically should they do or say to de-escalate a situation spinning out of control?  Think about this:  your troubled child can often tell you exactly what works best and what makes things worse.  Listen to them.  It doesn’t have to sound rational to you as long as it works.

How should a time-out work?  Who counts to 10, or who can leave the house and go out for a walk?  Where can someone run to to feel safe and be left alone for a while?  What are the emotional safety rules for when the time out ends?  How can you and your child trust each other enough not to upset a fragile stability?

What should teachers or co-workers or others do to calm down a situation and get their classroom or office back to normal as quickly as possible?

Can a sibling stay at someone else’s house until things cool down at home?  Which house?  Sibling(s) can benefit from an escape to a friend’s house to protect them emotionally until a crisis has passed.  Ask them.

Teamwork

Think of your family and support network as a team that springs into action when someone sounds the Red Alert that your child is in danger.  Talk to family members and friends or neighbors ahead of time and give them an assigned role.  Let each should know they will be backed up.  This will be tremendously reassuring.  Your child’s crisis will be an upsetting event, but reasonable people will pull together when they know what’s going on and what they should do.  “Gang up on your kids:  Parent networks for tracking runaway children

Experiences and evidence shows that a rapid reduction of stress is effective at reducing the emotional wounds of a crisis.  Rapid cooling down of emotions, or “de-escalation,” is what prevents or limits the fallout from a crises.  You and your family can develop de-escalation techniques for bouncing back in tough situations.  The goal is “resilience.”  More than anyone, families with troubled children need resilience.

After the crisis

Everyone gets a mental health break.  This could be anything:  a day off, eating out, ice cream, going out for a movie…  Do something to get everyone back to an OK place and on their feet.  There should always be a reward for bravery, team work, and a job well done.

Next time it happens

There will be a next time.  A troubled child will be fine for many months and you’ll be so relieved, and then WHAM.  Use a previous crisis as a learning experience.  What can be done better next time?

Your long-term goal is to reduce crisis frequency over time, or prevent them from happening in the first place. 

Many parents have taken these steps to prevent a crisis or limit its severity.

  • Communicate directly with a police officer or precinct, school counselor, or juvenile justice official to explain your child’s legitimate mental health disability and your willingness to cooperate. Build a working relationship with them.
  • Locks on doors: a sibling can protect him or herself and their belongings; a parent can protect belongings, prescriptions, valuables, and money.
  • Track via technology – Track where your child goes and what they see online, and let them know you are doing this. This is legal.
  • Track via eyes and ears on the street – Befriend or build trust with your child’s friends, their parents, their teachers, neighbors, and businesses where they hang out.  Ask for a report if they see or hear something of concern. They may not be able to do anything but just report.
  • Search the child’s room for evidence of unsafe behavior, anything from razors for cutting themselves, harmful substances, porn, weapons, unusual ‘stockpiles’ of stuff (lengthy explanation goes here… just trust your gut if something is out of place). Room searches in your home are legal, but keep them secret and avoid acting on other things you find that aren’t 100% related to danger
  • Lock up dangerous items even though it’s inconvenient for you–kitchen knives, weapons, alcohol, drugs and prescriptions, matches, etc.
  • Lock up money, credit cards, and valuables. With money in hand, your child is on a path to victim-hood or association with people with criminal behavior. For example, they can buy drugs and alcohol from inappropriate people who then rob or assault them.
  • Confront people who undermine your authority. This is often a friend’s parents or other person who thinks you are abusing your child (because your child has told them so). They ‘rescue’ your child and offer safe harbor, and actively help them run away.  This is completely against the law, and they are subject to police action and criminal charges.  People who do this do not have your child’s safety in mind.

Extreme measures

There may be times when, for reasons of safety, you may to do things you are uncomfortable with while you wait for police, ambulance, or friends to arrive.  These are things parents have done in a crisis:  tackle a child and hold them down; or trick a child to get in a car and then have someone hold them down until they arrive at an emergency room (commonly needed in rural areas).  The way to avoid the risk of being charged by your child with abuse or assault is to have those open relationships with the authorities, teachers, and other parents who know your situation.  A letter from a doctor can be really important here.  I was glad I had one.

There will be fallout if you use force or trickery. Your child will not accept your reasoning or the necessity for your actions.  You can truly apologize for upsetting your child but without admitting guilt. Instead, ask what they want to happen next time they are in a crisis.  You should also honestly reassure them you will never use extreme methods again unless there is a safety issue.

To recap:

  • Trust your gut
  • Act immediately
  • Follow a plan that includes others working as a team
  • Take care of everyone afterwards
  • Prepare for extreme measures
  • Retain your authority as a parent by establishing supportive relationships.

You can handle this!

 

–Margaret

Your bullied child has legal rights to protection and safety

Your bullied child has legal rights to protection and safety

 

Edith Castro Roldán, Oscar Manuel Luna Nieto

Violence and Bullying at School

There was a time when bullying was not talked about or noticed.  Being bullied was explained away as a right-of-passage.  Finally, we hearing horror stories about bullied children, and speaking out as we remember our own awful experiences. The statistics are alarming.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2013-14 school year 65% of public schools had recorded one or more violent bullying incidents. That year alone totaled about 757,000 incidents, which means there were about 15 crimes per 1,000 students during that school year alone. The schools record specific kinds of violent incidents and of those that occurred in 2013-14, 58% of public schools reported there had been at least one physical attack without a weapon or a fist fight. About 47% of the schools reported at least one threat of physical attack without a weapon.

The threat of violence in today’s schools is real.
Are you and your child prepared?

Now is the time to prepare yourself and your child for school violence and bullying. Know what steps you need to take and educate your child about the situations presented and how to respond to bullying or school violence. Remember, knowledge is essential in protecting your children and yourself from being a victim of school violence.  Parents and teachers have options for stopping bullying.

There are several kinds of bullying in today’s advanced world. While technology may be a great advancement, it also has its downfalls. While there was a time you may have thought of bullying as taking someone’s lunch money, calling them names, or pushing them around, there are many other kinds of bullying in our technologically advanced age.

What Happens at School Happens in Cyberspace

There are many kinds of bullying that can happen at school. While physical bullying, verbal bullying, and vandalism and theft still exist, cyberbullying has made the news in recent years. Using social media, the bully or bullies will maliciously harass a student. This can be done by making derogatory remarks, abusing and belittling another student, or posting photos that are unflattering or compromising.

There have been many reports of cyberbullying in the news recently. There have been many cases in which a cyberbullying victim has committed suicide or the bully was criminally charged. One of the more memorable cases involved a 13-year-old named Megan Meier who hanged herself after being bullied by someone she thought was a boy she befriended online.

It was later learned that the boy was actually a former female friend, her friend’s mother, and their employee. Criminal charges were filed against the mother, Lori Drew, and she was found guilty of three charges. Later she was acquitted by a U.S. District Judge. Since then, there have been several other cases.

The bully may also play the victim
so he or she can get by doing more harm.

Reactive bullies will continue to taunt, tease, push, or hit others until the victim strikes out so they can then present themselves as victims and place the blame on others. There are many kinds of school violence and there are many causes for today’s unpleasant and threatening atmosphere in school settings.

Causes of School Violence

  • Students have a greater access to weapons, such as guns and knives.
  • Cyberbullying is much more common because of Internet access, cell phones, and tablets. Social media’s popularity plays a major role as well.
  • The environmental impact and its role, such as school environment, the existence of gangs, school size, middle schools, the community environment, and the family environment. Putting your child or teen in a positive environment in the community and home can play a significant role in helping them to avoid the dangers of violence.

The Signs Your Child is Being Bullied

Edith Castro Roldán, Oscar Manuel Luna Nieto

Parents should always be on the look for signs that a child is being bullied. While you may like to believe that your child would openly tell you if he or she is being bullied, that is not the case. Most children are embarrassed or ashamed of being bullied even when it is not their fault. There are several things to watch for that may indicate your child is being picked on by others.

  • Unexplained injuries.
  • Destroyed or lost books, clothing, electronics, or jewelry.
  • Faking illness or complaining of headaches and stomach aches.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Frequent nightmares or difficulty sleeping.
  • Not wanting to go to school or declining grades.
  • Avoiding social situations or loss of friends.
  • Self-destructive behaviors or loss of self-esteem.

The Results of School Violence

Bullying and violence can cause all kinds of physical injuries as well as emotional damage. Students can suffer anything from cuts and bruises to broken bones to lost teeth and frighteningly, even gunshot wounds and death. Make sure you seek treatment for your child if he or she has been a victim of bullying.

Emotional damage can last for years
after the bullying has been put to a stop.

Kinds of Bullying

As previously mentioned, there are several kinds of bullying

  • Physical Bullying – hitting, punching, fist fights
  • Verbal Bullying – name calling, making fun of another, cursing
  • Reactive Bullying – picking on others to get a reaction and then playing the victim
  • Cyberbullying – done through social media or text message
  • Vandalism and Theft – damaging or stealing the property of others

Regardless of the kind of bullying that your child has suffered, you need to make sure he or she gets the help that is needed. Seek professional counseling or therapy to help him or her overcome the emotional and mental damage.

Why Don’t Children Ask for Help?

You have probably told your child to come to you with any problems, but when it comes to bullying most children don’t tell anyone. Bullying makes a child feel helpless and insecure. They may fear telling will make them look weaker or be viewed as a tattletale. There is also the fear of backlash from the bully and his or her friends.

Being bullied can be a humiliating experience.

Children probably don’t want adults to be made aware of what is being said about them because they may fear the adults may judge them or punish them, regardless of whether what is being said is true or not. Bullied children fear rejection of their peers as well, and they may already feel isolated and alone.

Eddie~S, Bully Free Zone, CC BY 2.0

Ways to Prevent Bullying

There are ways to prevent bullying. Some of the more effective approaches include:

  • Establish a safe climate at home, in the community, and at school.
  • Learn how to be more engaged in your children’s school life. Building a positive school climate is detrimental in preventing bullying.
  • Assess bullying at your child’s school and understand how your child’s school stands in comparison to national bullying rates.
  • Talk with your child about their concerns, and be direct. They may think that getting parents involved may worsen the bullying, so be sure to reassure them that you’re there to help the situation.
  • Avoid being misdirected in bullying prevention and response strategies. Focus on your child!
  • Learn about bullying so you know what it is and what it is not. While many behaviors may be just as serious a bullying, some may require different responses than how you respond to bullying.
  • Speak with your children about bullying, and how they can stop it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and exposing children to ways to address a bully in their life can be extremely effective. It also opens the doors of communication so that a child can feel comfortable discussing it.
  • Encourage your child to seek friends for help in opposing a bully – peer pressure can be effective in getting bullies to stop their behavior.

Being aware of the situation and the warning signs are essential in helping to prevent bullying. Be proactive so you can address bullying issues right away.

Your Child Has Rights!

No one wants their child to be a victim of bullying. There are several things you can do to help your child avoid bullying or bring an end to it. Here is some legal information you need to know, so if the situation does arise the proper action can be taken right away.

Schools have a duty of care. If the school breaches their duty of care, you may be able to get compensation for any therapy bills, medical or dental expenses, or reimbursement for any out-of-pocket costs resulting from the altercation.

By Andrevruas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Teacher and administrator intervention. Teachers are required to do any reasonable action to protect their students’ welfare, health, and safety. Their legal responsibilities focus on three sources:

  • Common Law Duty of Care
  • Statutory Duty of Care
  • The Duty Arising from the Contract of Employment

If the teacher or administrator does not step in to stop the fight before it happens, or during the actual fight, then they can be sued for breaching their responsibilities for duty of care. Be familiar with the school’s protocol and policies as each state has different laws and regulations and each school has a different educational code. Educate yourself!

Understanding Parental Liability

Parents of bullies are criminally liable for negligence in not maintaining control of their children’s delinquent acts. Parental responsibility statutes indicate that parents are not held responsible for their children’s acts, but of inadequately controlling their children.

A lawsuit can only be filed against a government entity (school) in instances where there is actual negligence and not intentional misconduct. In order to sue the school system because your child was bullied, you will have to prove the school system’s negligence for not addressing the problem that they were made aware of previously.

There are some instances in which you cannot sue a public school. The Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C.§ 2674) explains how there are some instances in which a public school can’t be sued. As an example, you can’t sue because of a school system employee’s official misconduct, but there is a fine line between negligence and misconduct in some instances. To clarify the details, you should consult with an attorney.

Getting the Evidence for a Case

If your child has been injured in a violent act at school, you may have a case against the school system or the bully and his family. There are several steps to gathering evidence for a case:

  • Discovery, which includes deposition, interrogatories, request for admission, “subpoena duces tecum
  • Subpoena
  • Witness of the incident
  • Exhibits, such as evidence, records, reports, video, photographs
  • Damages – medical and dental bills, therapy costs, receipts

If your child has suffered school violence or bullying, you should consult with an attorney. School violence can cause personal injury that has lasting effects. Protect the rights of your child!

by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help

 

Personal Injury Law
Free evaluation

 


Sources:

https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=49
http://www.crf-usa.org/school-violence/causes-of-school-violence.html
http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/#bullied
http://americanspcc.org/bullying/schools/?gclid=CjwKEAjwrIa9BRD5_dvqqazMrFESJACdv27GeJ3suQOZda0rHDRSliByF3x6VxHg3GFRGH798o0uqhoCPCPw_wcB
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/suing-government-negligence-FTCA-29705.html
https://nobullying.com/six-unforgettable-cyber-bullying-cases/

Use the “S” word: talk openly with your child about suicide

Use the “S” word: talk openly with your child about suicide

Don’t be silent on the subject of suicide, even if there’s no evidence your child has considered it.  Bring it in the open, especially if you have a hunch something is wrong and they may have suicidal thoughts.  This article addresses:

  1. Why you should talk about suicide with your child
  2. How to respond if there’s been a threat
  3. How to respond if there’s been an attempt

Parents talk about many uncomfortable subjects with their child; and suicide must be one of them.

Don’t let suicide become a ‘sensitive’ subject.  Your child needs to hear about it from you.  They should feel safe talking about it.  Don’t expect them to bring this subject up.  They may fear you will overreact, and worsen their depression, or you could under-react or dismiss it because you’re uncomfortable.  Neither response helps.

Won’t this give my child ideas and encourage suicidal thoughts?

No.  Children usually know what suicide is and will have wondered about it—even young children. Ask what your child thinks. Children as young as 7 and 8 have asked about suicide or communicated they had suicidal thoughts.  Children as young as 10 and 11 have attempted or completed suicide.  The ages of highest suicide risk are between 10 to 24.

Talk with your child. Don’t leave him or her alone with thoughts or questions about suicide.

An 11-year-old boy died of suicide a couple of weeks before this article was written. There had been no prior signs.  He killed himself after receiving a prank text saying his girlfriend had committed suicide. He told no one beforehand.  His parents had no idea he was even at risk.

Why might my child become suicidal?

Mental health professionals assess risk by using the Biopsychosocial Model.  The more negatives in the biological, social, and psychological aspects of one’s life, the higher the risk of suicide or other mental health problems.

The major risks of suicide are in the central part of this diagram: drug effects, temperament, IQ, family relationships, trauma.

From Pinterest and the blog, Social Workers Scrapbook

What can you control and change at home?
What do you and family members need to reduce these risks?
Communicate about these with everyone. (Can be hard to do, but try.)

What can trigger suicidal thoughts?

Examples from two states that did the research:

Oregon: Survey results for an exceptionally high suicide rate among 10-24 year olds by population, 180 individuals in one year (“Suicide circumstances by life stage, 2013-2014”).

  • 62% – Current depressed mood
  • 53% – Relationship problems
  • 47% – Current mental health problems
  • 43% – Current/past mental health treatment
  • 42% – History of suicidal thoughts/plans
  • 31% – Recent/imminent crisis
  • 22% – Family relationship problems
  • 21% – Non-alcohol substance abuse problems
  • 8% – School problem

New York: Life situations of children completing suicide, 88 individuals; (“Suicide Prevention, Children Ages 10 to 19 Years”, 2016)

  • Feeling hopeless and worthless (often because of bullying at school, home, or online)
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Physical illness
  • Feeling detached and isolated from friends, peers, and family
  • Family history of suicide, mental illness, or depression
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Access to a weapon in the home
  • Knowing someone with suicidal behavior or who committed suicide, such as a family member, friend, or celebrity
  • Coping with homosexuality in an unsupported family, community, or hostile school environmental
  • Incarceration (time in juvenile detention or youth prison)

What if my child has threatened suicide?

A threat opens a door for a discussion.  A good approach is to interview your child about their feelings, plans, needs, and reasons.  Listen earnestly without input.*  You might be surprised to find their problem is solvable, but their depressed mood paints it as hopeless.  Listening helps them get clarity and feel heard and respected.  Once you understand their problems, you assist them in identifying options and provide emotional support.

* I have a friend who worked for a suicide hotline, and he said the job wasn’t difficult at all.  He said, “All I did was listen and show understanding of their feelings and just let them talk. “

After a frustrating discussion about my teenage daughter’s suicidal threats, I gave up and said “No.  I’m telling you not to commit suicide.”  She was incredulous; “You can’t tell me what to do!  You can’t stop me!”  I responded, “Don’t commit suicide. You’re important to us.  You have important things to do in life.”  She made a few attempts in the following years (they were always public… as if she wanted to be discovered and prevented), and she always reached out to her family afterwards for support.  Did my words make a difference?

What if a threat is just for attention?

It’s hard to tell. It could be genuine  or manipulative.  Some children use threats to prevent parents from asserting rules.  Angry children, especially teens, use threats to blame and hurt parents emotionally.  If you think a threat is not genuine, open up the suicide discussion.  “Talk to me about this”, “It seems like an extreme reaction to something we can fix.” “What needs to change?”  “How can I help?”  Focusing on the threat will either expose the ruse or draw out important information for addressing an underlying problem.

What else can I do if my child threatens suicide?

  1. Observe and investigate.
  • Do they have access to unsafe objects or substances?  You can legally search their room.
  • Do they frequent unsafe places or spend time with people who encourage drug use?
  • Do they have extreme mood swings (up or down), or a chronic dark mood?
  • Do they take dangerous risks and seek dangerous activities?
  • Are there any other danger signs?
  1. Build a network of eyes–choose people who will observe your child and keep you advised of risk, e.g. a mature sibling, a teacher, your child’s friend or the friend’s parents, your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend, a relative, or a trusted person who knows your child.
  1. Make changes you have control over, and solidly commit to these changes. Bring the whole family along on the plan.  FOLLOW THROUGH.
  • In family life – reduce chaos, fighting, blaming, or bullying; express appreciation; neglect no one including yourself; create 2 – 3  house rules that are easy to enforce and everyone follows, even you.
  • In social and online life – learn as much as you can about the nature of your child’s relationships, whether romantic or social. Support them if they distress your child. Can they remove themselves from a toxic relationship? or cope effectively with anxiety? Can you help them address bullying at school or online?
  • Biological health – Sleep, Exercise, Diet.  Limit screen time at night because blue light inhibits sleep.  Pay attention to digestive health, which affects mental health. These are some natural approaches.
  • Psychological health – Ask a school counselor about your child.  Seek a working diagnosis and mental health treatment.  Help your child find outlets for personal self-expression:  journaling, music, art, poetry, or a website such as this one, where teens help teens.  Mind Your Mind is an excellent example.

What if my child attempted suicide?

He or she is still very fragile, even if in treatment!  They have taken the action, they’ve been there, and have the option for taking it again—a high percentage try againSuicide attempts are long-term emergencies. You need to be on alert in the following days, weeks, months, and possibly years.  In addition to intensive mental and physical health treatment, ensure your child gets regular deep sleep, exercise, and a good diet.  Ask them if they’ve had suicidal thoughts if you sense something is wrong.  Don’t be shy about checking in.

Pay attention to events that trigger suicide.

Check-in with your child when something traumatic happens or might happen, especially if someone he or she knows attempted or committed suicide, or a suicide was in a TV drama or covered in the news.  Triggers are an emergency, act immediately.

You have the power to prevent a child’s suicide.
Be strong. You can do this. 

Take care of yourself.

–Margaret