My 14-year-old confided in me that her friend has been unhappy and talking about suicide. My daughter is afraid to tell me who her friend is and also says the thought of her friend dying scares her. How can I help my daughter and what should I do about the threat of suicide?
Your daughter must be so troubled by this! It’s scary to have someone you care about threaten or even explore the idea of taking his or her own life. It paralyzes us and we often don’t know how to respond. Here are some suggestions on what you can do to help your daughter.
First, commend your daughter for being the kind of friend that is safe enough for her friend to divulge such private information. Let her know that her friend must trust her enough to know what to do with that information. And, let her know that with that trust also comes great responsibility.
Suicidal threats aren’t something anyone should take lightly. Sure, we all have low and depressing times when we wish could disappear and get away from everything. Typically, those moments are transitory and we get back to solving our problems and living our lives. However, if those thoughts become persistent and evolve into a plan or thoughts of a plan, it’s now become something more serious.
Your daughter shouldn’t be the judge as to whether or not her friend will really do something like this. She’s too immature and doesn’t know the right questions to ask. Instead, she needs to tell her friend that she feels grateful that she opened up about her pain and her secret of wanting to die. And, then she needs to tell her friend that she cares too much about her safety and her life to let this go any further. If it’s a cry for help, then she’ll get the help. If she’s really serious about taking her life, then your daughter could be the link to saving her life.
In many cases of suicide, there aren’t warnings or threats. It just happens. And, everyone is left wondering what he or she could have done to prevent it. If someone is talking seriously about killing himself or herself, it’s a signal that more needs to be done. Chances are, they’ve been thinking about it for some time.
Your daughter shouldn’t go behind her friend’s back and start telling others without first making a clear effort to do so with her friend’s cooperation. Tell her that she needs to encourage her friend to open up for help on her own first. Your daughter can offer to be with her when she tells her parents or another adult, she might even invite her friend to come talk with you – “let’s talk to my mom, she gets these things” can be an effective appeal. Sometimes teenagers will talk to another adult before they will talk to their parent, and it may open opportunity for you to assess the situation and provide direction.
If her friend refuses and won’t say anything herself, then your daughter will need to make the extremely difficult decision to inform her friend that she’s going to have to get help for her. Then, your daughter should tell her friend’s parents so they can get her help. Again, this isn’t breaking loyalty. It’s the most loyal thing a friend can do for another friend who doesn’t value her own life.
Your daughter needs to know that she did everything possible to help her friend. If her friend decided to take her own life, although your daughter would suffer tremendously, she would have the long-term reassurance of knowing she did everything she could to save her friend’s life.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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