Positive Emotions Can Save Lives

Last week, it happened again.  Another young life in our local community was lost to suicide.

In 2017, the results of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 17.2% of students had seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year. It was noted that the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year had increased significantly from 14.5% in 2007 to 17.2% in 2017.

To hear these results, particularly after the loss of another of our children, it can feel scary and overwhelming as a parent, a teacher, or anyone else responsible for the safety of kids.  But these results also tell us that the majority of our children are not reporting suicidal thoughts, and those who do, the majority do not act on them.

Clearly some of our kids are struggling.  How are so many of them coping when they may be bullied or dealing with peer related problems, or may be facing serious family problems or other stressors in the home?  How are they choosing to live with the constant pressures of school and the demands for success?  On top of it all, we know that their ability to make good decisions, to focus, or to manage their negative feelings are even more compromised by their poor diet, lack of sleep, and overexposure to electronics and social media.

Risk factors for suicide include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair.  Whereas positive emotions like hope, faith, optimism, and resilience are considered protective against suicide.  That means, in order for our kids to want to live into adulthood, their grownups must show them how it’s done.

  • Let your child overhear you change your negative thinking to more positive thoughts.
  • Allow your child to see and hear you struggle with a problem, manage your feelings of fear, pain, sadness or anger, and move through to a realistic solution.
  • Listen to your child as they share their day with you. Make eye contact with them and let them know that you care about them and what they are saying.
  • When your child expresses negative thoughts, resist arguing with them, and instead practice problem solving, allowing them to identify new ideas, options and strategies.
  • Practice strength spotting with your child – notice their strengths. Imagine with them, picturing them using their strengths as they work through difficult situations.
  • Help your child to plan for what they fear. Help them to know that they are capable and that you believe in their ability to handle it, while also letting them know that it is ok to make a mistake and to ask for help.
  • Together with your child, identify activities that can be options for them when they need to self-soothe or cope, such as talking to a friend, reading a book, coloring a picture, listening to music, playing with a toy, taking a walk, or taking a bath.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk with your child openly about suicide and what they should do if they or a friend has thoughts or urges to hurt themselves.
  • Especially when they are struggling to manage the stressors in their lives, help your child to fuel-up on real rather than processed foods, adequate sleep, and positive, supportive relationships.

We do all we can.  We do our best.  While a focus on protective factors can decrease the risk of suicide, it may not eliminate the risk.  Beyond some of the psychological risk factors discussed, many others contribute to suicide to include biology, chemistry, environment, etc.  If you notice changes in your child, to include isolation, changes in mood and activity, changes in sleep and appetite, unexplained physical complaints, or direct statements that they want to die or want to kill themselves, get help.  Consider a therapist or counselor for your child, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911, or go to your local emergency room.

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