Adolescent Child Attempted Suicide

How do we come alongside our daughter now that she's in the hospital after trying to take her own life? We're wrestling with feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, and fear. We can't understand how something like this could have happened to one of our own children. Do you have any advice for us?

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Before saying anything else, we want you to know that our hearts go out to you, your daughter and your entire family in the midst of this profoundly painful and distressing situation. We can imagine that you are experiencing a wide range of conflicting emotions right now. In particular, it must be overwhelming for you as a parent to try and understand why the child you love would try to put an end to her life. We want you to know that we care deeply about you and are here to come alongside you in any way we can.

You probably don’t need us to tell you that, among other things, a suicide attempt has to be regarded as a desperate cry for help. Any deliberate self-destructive act on the part of a child or adolescent, whether planned or impulsive, should be taken very seriously, regardless of the severity of the outcome. You mentioned that your daughter has been hospitalized, and we take this as an indication that you are keenly aware of the seriousness of the situation. It’s good to know that you’re already moving ahead with appropriate care.

After any medical problems have been resolved a formal assessment by a qualified medical professional is essential. The course of action you will follow from this point forward will depend upon a number of factors. It may range from ongoing counseling while your daughter remains at home to a formal treatment program in a psychiatric hospital. The latter option is usually chosen both to ensure safety and to begin intensive treatment. While we can’t go into the details of that treatment process here, this is a matter you will want to discuss with your daughter’s physicians and psychiatrists. Whatever approach is adopted, it’s vital for you as the parents to find out as much as you can about the methodology it employs and precisely how it will promote your daughter’s recovery process. In other words, stay involved and be pro-active in your interactions with her care-givers.

In the meantime, make a firm commitment to pray for your daughter and love her with an unflinching, unconditional love. Understand that this is probably going to be a long road, and that it’s unrealistic to look for instant solutions or quick fixes. As upset or guilty as you may feel under these terrible circumstances, this is not a time to express shock and disappointment (“How could you do such a thing?”). It’s also important to resist any temptation to dwell on the negative medical or financial fallout of this incident. This will only aggravate your daughter’s feelings of guilt and shame. Your task at this moment is to draw near to your child and help her bear the burden of her pain. If she is to survive and move beyond this dark episode in her life, it will be because she has loving and optimistic people on her team. It will help immensely if her parents are at the top of the roster.

As you arrange for and oversee the necessary treatment for your daughter, don’t neglect to give proper attention to your own pain and hurt. This is a very real and serious aspect of the situation you’re facing. If it hasn’t happened yet, you can shortly expect to be overwhelmed by a host of why God questions. You’ll ask yourselves where you went wrong and how you could possibly have missed the signs that this tragedy was approaching. You’ll wrestle with feelings of shame, guilt and despair. Parents in your position tend to blame themselves. If they don’t blame themselves, they may blame one another and end up destroying their marriage. You need to be aware of these dangers and make a determined effort to avoid them. Remember, even the best parents in the world can’t expect to have absolute power over the attitudes and actions of their children. So don’t add to the severity of your grief by assuming responsibility for things beyond your control.

We suggest that you seek the help of a professional counselor as you work your way through this difficult experience, and we strongly recommend that you consider including the entire family in the counseling process. Call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department can provide you with a list of qualified Christian therapists in your area who specialize in dealing with problems of this nature. Our counselors will also be happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.

 

Resources

My Friend Is Struggling with Thoughts of Suicide

Life In Spite of Me: Extraordinary Hope After a Fatal Choice

Referrals
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

New Hope Telephone Counseling Center – 1-714-NEW-HOPE (639-4673)

Covenant House – 1-800-999-9999

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


Articles


When You Feel Hopeless

Grief, Trauma or Depression?

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family.

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