“I have something to tell you and I think it’s going to make you mad.”
My daughter’s voice was small as she stood in the kitchen doorway while I complained that I was tired and still had to make dinner. “What is it?” I wish I could say I was patient. “I promise I won’t be angry. I’m just in a bad mood.”
She glanced down at the floor, clearly ashamed and nervous about what she had to tell me. “I think I want to hurt myself. I don’t feel safe.” Those words changed the course of my day, my week, and probably my life.
That night I spent six harrowing hours in the emergency room with my 19-year-old daughter on suicide watch, going home only when she had been admitted to a local psychiatric hospital. I was worn out beyond belief. How does a mother sit next to one of her children and know that her child’s life had become such a dark place she was willing to end it?
I am grateful she reached out to me that afternoon with her fears of hurting herself. Not many young adults will do that. Why was I a lucky one? What was different that she’d felt safe enough to open up to me even as I groused about how bad my day had been and how tired I was?
Be a lifeguard, not a helicopter
In 2014, there were almost 43,000 deaths from suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death, but it’s the second leading cause of death for young adults ages 15-24. Why is it that at their darkest hour our youth feel they have no one to turn to for help? What can we do differently to reach out to them and help them feel safe?
There’s a lot of talk about helicopter parents. I like to think of myself as a lifeguard parent instead. A helicopter parent hovers overhead and swoops in to save the day whereas a lifeguard parent stands by, encouraging their child to take risks and only jumps in when the child is in over her head and calling for help.