According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the #2 killer of individuals between 10-34. The #1 being accidents. In 2017, suicides (47,173) more than doubled the number of homicides (19,510). These figures appear to be epidemic and are still on the rise.

Suicide affects so many families. The odds are that many of my readers have already been hurt by this horrible tragedy. As dads, what do we tell our kids when they encounter news or have questions about this topic? Is there a way that we can make any sense of it? 

When I was a kid and still to this day, I have heard the statement that suicide is one of the selfish things that an individual can do. Now, I only believe this to be true as long that the individual is rational. Perhaps you caught my approach. To those that are not hurting and suffering, putting those whom you are close to through such an ordeal is awful and selfish. I believe that suicide or any taking of human life is wrong. However, through my study on the subject, I’m not so sure that I can hold these individuals in contempt as I use to. I would like to share with you a process of thinking that may help you address this issue in your own mind and also have a way to explain it to your children.

Please note that I am not an expert in mental health, but merely share with you as a person that has been affected by suicide and as a dad who has had to discuss it with my children. Studies have shown that the same part of the brain that detects physical pain deals with emotional pain. That being said, part of my study on this subject has to do first with physical pain.

On the tragic day of 911, Americans witnessed the horror of the World Trade Center towers burning and ultimately collapsing because of an act of terrorism. Cameras captured not only the destruction of the buildings but the last moments of many trapped by the fire and building damage. As the heat became unbearable, several individuals lept to their deaths. Firemen in the lobby heard the horrific sounds of bodies hitting the ground. One stated in an interview that he could not imagine how bad it had to be up there that the idea of jumping was the solution.

In moments of pain, our natural instincts are to flee the source. Whether it is a knee jerk reaction, taking cover, or running while on fire, we want to get away. Is there really any rational thought process? Although it is different when we think of our feelings and emotions, the same part of the brain registers the pain. Can the pain become like the fire of those trapped in the WTC towers? Do we blame those at the fire’s edge who jumped? What about those with time to consider their pain in times of illness who say, “no more”?

Perhaps as dads, we should express to our children that there are those that are hurting so bad, that some people seek the end as a means to end the pain. However, not being an advocate for suicide, I believe we should instill within our children that there are things that we can try to do to help those that are hurting. Let them know that communication needs to always be encouraged and that we should not see such individuals as those who should feel shame. Our children should know that it is important to report any signs or words of self-destructive behavior. We should discuss with our children potential warning signs for them to be aware of when it comes to mental illness. 

Pain is real to those that experience it. Our kids need to understand that it is okay “not” to have all the answers but to be aware that there are those that are desperate and hurting. We cannot always see their pain. There are illnesses that some people have on the inside. What we can do for them is to make sure that we are NOT quiet. Secondly, we should not try to address the issue alone. We need to tell someone like a teacher, counselor, or even police.

Suicide and mental illness a problem that we should not avoid talking about. When kids have questions, they need answers. Don’t hide the ugly or painful truth. Kids are resilient and can handle more than we give them credit for. As someone that has dealt with mental illness in my family, I can boldly state that the answers are not always clear. Not understanding it has taken me through a period of anger and frustration. This never helps the situation.

We need to teach our kids about tough things. We need to teach compassion. Sometimes compassion is not just being kind, but taking action to. Teach your kids to be observant. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage their expressions of concern. Be the best dad possible.