By Parth Patel, Youth Mobile Crisis Coordinator
“My kid is doing this for attention” is a response I hear pretty frequently as a youth crisis counselor. I find this statement helpful during my intervention, because I believe that parents truly are the experts on their kids, and want to learn more about what’s behind this response. I can hear the frustration, and underneath this, some helplessness, in a parent’s voice as they describe the history of their child’s mental health challenges including history of suicidal thoughts, previous attempt(s), and self harm behaviors. It’s common for parents to have a hard time understanding what their child has to be stressed or unhappy about, (“When I was their age I had to deal with______ , they have it so easy.” At times, there is an implication that this particular concern is not too serious, which unintentionally dismisses the severity of the child’s suffering. Imagine dealing with something painful that’s causing you to feel trapped, and then being told that you don’t have it so bad. Would this help you feel more hopeful? The result of sending these messages to children is them feeling like a burden on others. If their parents can’t handle these thoughts and believe they are suffering, then what hope is there?
What I’ve found to be more helpful when supporting youth is to err on the side of caution. Children are showing courage by sharing their thoughts of suicide with me. Remember, there is still plenty of stigma and stereotypes related to this issue. I remind parents that yes, teenagers will say some harsh things when they are upset, like “I hate you!” or “You’re the worst!” and these comments are more developmentally appropriate when they’re feeling angry or hurt. Hearing these comments frequently is exhausting. When it comes to direct statements like “I can’t do this anymore, I want to die,” it’s best to stick by the child’s side and involve a trained mental health professional, like a Mobile Crisis counselor. If a parent’s first question is whether their child is doing this for attention, I think it’s helpful to think “And what if this is true?” This internal reaction is totally valid, and a way they are coping through this stressful situation. How parents actually respond to their child is more important, and finding ways to validate their experience can open doors for exploration. We all have a need for love, positive attention and connection, and this is part of the human experience. When was the last time you needed something so much that you’d risk your life? No matter what you think someone’s intention is, the best thing you can do is to listen to them nonjudgmentally, and explore ways they can receive positive attention in their lives.
Remember, most of the time kids don’t really want to die, they want their emotional pain to end and they may need positive, loving attention from a safe adult during these times. I’ve witnessed time and time again, the power of taking my time when talking to students, and focusing on the interpersonal relationship. That undivided attention can make all the difference when it comes to the decision to stay alive another day. Calling Mobile Crisis counselors to have a rapid, in-person response can be a huge source of support for you and your child.
You are not alone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for support.
To have Mobile Crisis dispatched, call 1-855-581-8111
Chat Online: 988Lifeline.org/chat