On Oct 5th, I received a text message from my daughter’s boyfriend warning me that she was having suicidal thoughts.
Like any parent, I wanted to believe he was being dramatic, that they were both being dramatic. But I knew I couldn’t afford to. Not when the word “suicide” was being used. There’s no margin of error here, no “whoops”, no room to gamble.
I immediately called the Suicide Prevention hotline. They suggested that I talk to her about what’s going on with her, directly ask her if she has considered or attempted suicide, and possibly take her to an ER to have her admitted.
After that call, I went and laid in her bed under the guise of “just wanting to hang out and admire her artwork” as I do from time to time. In this case, I just wanted to keep an eye on her and let her know that I was there.
The next morning, I reached out to several mental health professionals to line up someone to talk to her. I picked her up from school that afternoon and asked her gently but directly the following questions:
Me: Are you experiencing depression right now? | Her: Yes
Me: Have you had suicidal thoughts? | Her: Yes
Me: Would you like to go have someone do a mental health assessment to help you | Her: Yes, I just want to know why I can’t seem to feel happy
Two things I was VERY intentional about being during this conversation: 1) nonjudgmental 2) supportive
I took her to a mental health clinic that was recommended to me by one of the therapists I had spoken to earlier that day. A doctor came to speak with her, asked her a few questions, and hours later they came back to the room and recommended that she be admitted.
Here’s where shit got REAL.
My daughter DID NOT want to stay at that mental health institution. I DID NOT want to leave her there.
My motherly instincts immediately went to war. My nurturing/protecting instincts wanted to grab my daughter and bolt TF out of there. My advocating/healing instincts insisted “she needs to be here”.
I told her that we had reached the limits of what I could do to help her on my own and I was so afraid of taking her home without the help she needed. Because if I was wrong and her depression got the better of her, there was no coming back from that.
We both cried. Hard.
She told me she understood that I needed to leave her, she said that she trusted me to do the right thing. I signed the papers. They took my daughter through a door. I couldn’t follow her. I couldn’t call her. I couldn’t even sign her out and take her home if I wanted.
I cried the entire way home. I had just left my daughter with strangers. I had relinquished my rights as her mother to this institution that could opt to keep her for as long as they saw fit.
The next day, I called my own therapist b/c this shit was HEAVY! I cried and told her how helpless I felt. I had left my daughter in the hands of strangers and now had no idea when she would be allowed to come home. I told her how afraid I was that this would always be a thing in our lives. I was afraid that I’d be worried about her for the rest of my life. I even pointed to Kate Spade, Robin Williams, and Anthony Bourdain as examples of people who ended their lives at a late age.
My therapist revealed that she had worked with patients at the mental health clinic where my daughter was/ She calmly walked me through their process and what to expect, which gave me so much comfort. She then called out that Kate Spade, Robin Williams, and Anthony Bourdain were born in a time where mental health was not a priority and likely didn’t have parents who were aware enough to ensure their children were getting help to battle their depression early.
After I ended the call with my therapist, I got to work setting up her support plan for when she left the clinic. I rescheduled biweekly sessions with her therapist and got her a psychiatrist as well. I spoke to the psychiatrist they had assigned to her at the mental health clinic multiple times a day. I event went to the parking lot and camped out for an afternoon insisting I be able to speak with him. If Zian didn’t know anything, she would KNOW her mother advocates for her.
I was only allowed to speak to my daughter when she called me and they were only allowed to call after 7pm each day. But each day she called, I told her how proud I was of her for being open about her feelings and challenges with her doctors at the clinic and how courageous she was for even telling me what she was going through.
After three days, she was allowed to leave the facility. Typically, they hold people for a minimum of five days. Zian later told me that one of the girls in the clinic asked her “how’d you get out so fast” she said “my mom” the girl said “oh, your mom lied for you” Zian said “no, my mom just doesn’t play about her daughter”. They let her out “early” because they agreed that Zian’s life outside of the facility would support her mental health because she:
- Was receptive to receiving help and treatment for her depression
- Candid and cooperative with her psychiatrist at the facility
- Had a mother who was nonjudgemental and supportive
- Had sessions with therapist AND a psychiatrist already lined up
Her psychiatrist also indicated that he didn’t feel she was “suicidal” but had been having suicidal thoughts because she didn’t quite know how to cope with her depression. I saw a quote on IG the other day from someone who struggled with suicide that said “I came to realize that I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my life as I knew it to end”. My daughter didn’t want to end her life, she desperately wanted to stop feeling the way she did and didn’t know how to make that happen. Enter depression. Enter suicidal thoughts.
Zian wasn’t magically all better when she got home but she was getting better. She felt better having met other girls her age going through the same things, she felt stronger knowing that she had made it through what seemed like one of the hardest things she’s been through. To this day, she says she needed that time in a clinic and her only regret about the experience is that we didn’t pick a nicer facility with better food 🤣
I’m so very grateful that her [ex] boyfriend took her seriously and cared enough about her to get me involved. I’m so grateful my daughter didn’t hide her feelings when I asked her about them. And I’m beyond grateful for the mental health professionals who took such good care of her while she was in that mental health clinic.
So why am I “on the innanet telling all my family business”? Well, because:
- My hope is that other parents experiencing this don’t feel alone. The night I left my daughter at that facility, I felt so very alone. Sharing this story with a few people, I’ve found that I’m not alone, actually.
- I also hope sharing will help parents be more aware of what their children are going through and how they can support them
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Depression and suicide rates among young people in this country have skyrocketed. I’m not here to debate why or to blame it all on social media and music, it’s too nuanced for the answer to be that simple.
I am here to encourage parents to be aware, to be supportive, and to feel informed/empowered.
In 2017, there were 6,241 suicides completed by young people ages 15 to 24. It is the 2nd leading cause of death for people in this age range. We MUST take the mental health of our children, teenagers, and young adults SERIOUSLY.
Here are a few suggestions I can offer but to be clear, I’m not a professional and my ultimate suggestion is ALWAYS to seek professional help:
Nothing has to be wrong with a person to speak to a mental health professional. We get regular check-ins with physicians, there is nothing wrong with getting a regular check-in with a therapist. Even if your child just sees one monthly or quarterly to talk to someone about the things they don’t feel they can talk to you or their teachers about.
Starting early also normalizes getting help. If you show them early in life that it’s ok to get help, they’ll know it’s available to them as they get older.
Children don’t always have the tools to ask for help and they may not even have the tools to realize they need help. Also, unfortunately, a lot of the signs of depression, especially severe depression, look a lot like the things kids and teenagers get into trouble for:
- Erratic mood swings
- Disinterest in hobbies
- Changes in sleep habits
- Decreased appetite
Take them Seriously
When your kids ask for help in subtle and blatant ways, BELIEVE THEM! Sometimes parents default to the assumption that kids “just want attention” or they’re “just being dramatic”. That’s an incredibly unfair conclusion and even if they “just want attention”, if that attention is going to keep them mentally healthy and prevent them from attempting suicide, it seems worth it.
DO NOT trivialize their problems. What your child, teen, or young adult is going through may not seem like a big deal to you but YOU AREN’T THE ONE GOING THROUGH IT.
Don’t Make it About You
Comparing their issues to yours “when you were a kid” isn’t helpful, in fact, it’s dismissive and hurtful. You aren’t the same person, you won’t have the same experiences, and you won’t deal with them the same way. I can’t expect my child to cope with things the way I would because she is not me.
Don’t take it personally either. Your child having mental health challenges is NOT a reflection of your parenting. Please don’t default to “but what do you have to be sad about I give you everything” because it’s not helpful. Also, steer clear of “what did I do to cause this” because that is also making it about you. Again, this is not a reflection of your parenting but how you choose to deal with it might be.
Assure your child that being open and honest about their feelings means they are courageous. Give them a safe space to share when they are suffering.
Be a listener, not a fixer.
Remember that you don’t have to “get it” or understand in order to be supportive.
Check-in with your child regularly in conversational, non-accusatory, nonjudgemental ways.
This is by far the most important bit of advice I can share. Help is out there. Here are some resources:
Open Path Collaborative – a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals dedicated to providing in-office and online mental health care—at a steeply reduced rate
State Health Department – your state health department may offer low-cost or free mental health care
Your Health Insurance – your health insurance plan may cover the cost or a portion of the cost of mental healthcare professionals.
Therapyforblackgirls.com – online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls. The website allows you to search for therapists.
Psychologytoday.com – an online search tool that will allow you to search for therapists for you or your child’s specific needs.
Real Depression Project – a “Depression School” with resources that teach people how to cope with and overcome depression. They also have an IG account where they share helpful information for people battling depression and for people who have loved ones battling depression.
Teenager Therapy Podcast – Five stressed, sleep deprived, yet energetic teens sit down and talk about the struggles that come with being a teenager
TeenMenthalHealth.org – committed to creating and delivering the highest quality mental health literacy information, research, education and resources.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-273-8255