How to talk to kids about suicide
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Suicide, Angela Frazier. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is suicide?
Suicide is when someone takes their own life. Suicide is as simple as ending your own life.
It's sometimes a way for people to escape pain or suffering, but it's absolutely not the answer. You should definitely always talk to a trusted adult if you ever are feeling that sadness when it comes to thinking about ending your own life.
Hello, dear [readers]. You are in very, very good hands for today’s topic.
I also know that this might not be a topic you’ve discussed at home or at school before. That may mean that the topic is new, but it may also mean that the entire word is new.
Angela begins A Kids Book About Suicide by sharing:
“Suicide is when someone dies by taking their own life.
It’s not something that happened to them or that someone did to them.
They did it to themselves.”
There are two ways that I explain why suicide occurs. One of those being some risk factors in regards to suicide and then also kind of some warning signs.
So risk factors may be childhood abuse. It could be the availability of a gun. Kids often experience traumatic events, such as bullying. That's another risk factor there.
And then warning signs. A few of those are things to look out for, right? So a change in one of your friends’ eating or sleeping patterns. Maybe they're withdrawing from your friend group, or even the family members that they normally would hang around, right?
And then also some things to think about is rebellious or violent behavior, and then neglect of appearance. If they're someone who normally really up-keeps themselves, something to really look at it is if there is that neglect of physical appearance there.
The end result of suicide is death. We will talk a good deal in this conversation about suicide prevention, which means stopping the person from taking an action that will cause their death. But I want to speak to you in clear terms so that our words are understood.
Suicide cannot be reversed. Suicide is a final act. This is the exact reason why you, you should never, you should never do that.
It leaves so many people with questions and hurt after you are gone.
If you're having negative thoughts, it's just so very important to talk to a teacher, a parent, an aunt… just really any, any trusted adult in your life.
There are many, many people affected when someone dies by suicide.
Suicide affects everyone who has left here on this earth. I say that because I have lost someone to suicide. I lost my mother to suicide when I was 24 years old.
And although I was an adult at the time, it felt the same as I imagine if a kid would lose their parent to suicide. We want our parents here forever. It truly disaffected anyone and everyone left here after you.
You may not know someone who has died to suicide. I honestly hope you never do. But being aware that suicides occur, that’s something I really respect you for taking on.
So, let’s take a minute to look inward. How does thinking about suicide or victims of suicide make you feel?
You can turn and share with a trusted grownup or sibling or friend. You can share aloud with me or share with yourself. You can also just reflect, and listen to others as they share.
You know, it makes me feel honestly sad because I know that there is such an eternal pain that nobody else can really truly understand.
You know, I often times… I remember in the beginning I used to have a lot of frustration and anger towards my mom, because “How, how could you?” That's how I felt.
But, as I have dug deep within the mental health community, I've learned that someone who takes their own life is really suffering. There's a lot of pain associated there. Again,not the route to go, but I have forgiven her for that act.
Suicide is referred to in lots of different ways. Sometimes these words or phrases are an attempt to avoid use of the word “suicide” or to say something that feels less harsh or difficult. These are called euphemisms.
A euphemism is a milder or less harsh, less direct way of saying something.
Instead of saying the word “suicide”, one might say the person “ended it all” or “took the easy way out” or “died by their own hand”.
As with many sensitive topics, the language we use when referring to the topic has value in how what we’re trying to say is conveyed.
I don't mind saying suicide, but I don't say committed. I don't say “committed suicide” because it sounds like it's a crime. You know the word committed very much. You know someone committed robbery, they committed a murder.
Suicide is an act against yourself and it puts a crime there instead of what it truly is. And it's a mental illness, it's a health issue. And so I really am cautious about my words when I talk about suicide.
So, take: “someone took their own life”. “Someone died by suicide”. You'll hear me say that. But I do not use “committed”. A lot of people who are in this world of mental health advocacy do not use the word committed.
It takes a little learning and education. You don't know what you don't know.
Sometimes our thoughts can be really loud and overpowering. A Kids Book About Suicide has a number of spreads where just a single phrase is written across the pages, such as “It’s Not Your Fault.” “Your Life is Worth Living.” “You are Here for a Reason.” and “You are Not Alone.”
Each word, of course, is here for a reason, too.
Yes, it is. It is so common for our minds to go down those rabbit holes. It just really is so important to know the truth about yourself.
And my therapist recently just challenged me to write out the narrative for my life, you know? Write off the truth and make sure you do that in a good, positive space. Where you can write down, “Okay, Angela is smart” and “Angela's educated” and “Angela is an author”. And, just all these really awesome things because a lot of times we just forget. Life—it moves so fast and at least that's when you're an adult, like myself, you have a resume. And oftentimes, you just kind of forget what all has led up to where we are, where we are today in life.
And we need those reminders and sometimes we just don't see it clear. But you know, if you can't clearly see it, ask the people in your life that love you. If I did a survey with my friends and family, I know there would be glowing reviews about me, but sometimes we just forget and sometimes we don't believe it at times. But writing it down and reading it in those moments, it really is helpful.
Before we let Angela go, I want to come back to what actions we, each of us, can take if we know that someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide or if we ourselves are struggling with thoughts of suicide.
First off, I always tell people that: You are no one's counselor or therapist. What I mean by that is, you are to offer resources. So, like the hotline mentioned, the National Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Please do recommend that.
Also, there's support. So there is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and also the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
But if someone's having a bad day and you can kind of, you can kind of gauge typically if somebody more is in crisis and they're talking about the plans and they have the means to take their own life, that's a 9-1-1 situation.
But if someone is just… they're going through a tough time, and we all will at certain times, I just encourage you to listen. Let them know that they're not alone and also encourage them to just take time and treat themselves.
We move so fast through life that sometimes we just forget, like, “What does it mean to just treat Angela?” And, you know, treating Angela can be, it doesn't have to be expensive. It could be a bubble bath. Take [yourself] back to your childhood. You know, you can, my goodness, do something fun with it. Get your nails done. Go to the movies with friends. Things like that— doesn't have to be expensive, but just reminding them [to] treat yourself, you know?
Self care is not selfish.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we spoke with Angela Frazier, author of A Kids Book About Suicide.
A quick note: This episode is about a topic that might be sensitive to young listeners. The content is appropriate for listeners ages 5 and up and does not include explicit or graphic language, but it's probably best to listen to this episode with a trusted adult in case you have questions. (Questions are always a good thing to have!)
If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts and live in the United States, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by chat or by calling 1-800-273-8255.
You may also visit their website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to find help in Spanish, or TTY for Deaf/Hard of Hearing, and for more accessibility options, information, and resources.