How your teenager may respond
Erina lists the following effects a suicide event may have on your teenager:
- Grief – symptoms of which may include fear, confusion, disorientation, shock, denial, guilt, remorse and regret, anger, depression, sadness and loneliness, and sleep disorders.
- Physical ill health – suppressed immunity due to stress, compounded with loss of appetite, will increase vulnerability to physical illness.
- ‘Snowball effect’ – it may revive memories of other forms of death, or other significant loss, that has previously been experienced. This could be the death of a grandparent, loss of a significant, bonded friendship, a home move away from friends and/or extended family, personal difficulties which cause crisis for them.
How a parent can help
So what can parents do or say to their own child to give them comfort, or to help them process or handle the situation? Erina says that first and foremost, parents must be available, and able to talk:
“Ask ‘how are you feeling?’ and ‘how are you feeling about this?’ In no way should the topic be avoided.”
Erina advises parents to bear in mind the three maxims of a therapeutic relationship: empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness. She explains these as:
- Empathy is warmth and compassion, aiming to ‘walk in the teenager’s footsteps’, and seeing the world from their point of view. Do not assume you know how your teenager feels, because not only do you not know how they feel, it is dishonouring of their experience to make assumptions. Be aware of your teenager’s unique reaction to the event.
- Unconditional positive regard is to accept what they say totally without judgment. Without this, they may not trust you enough to share their innermost, perhaps most frightening, feelings. Your teenager may have discovered a new level, or type, of feelings that they are experiencing for the first time. They need unconditional support for their new experience, and discovery of this newly-awakened part of their consciousness.
- Genuineness means to maintain a stable, non-judgmental presence. Listen, listen, and listen some more, if need be. Be fully open to your teenager’s experience, and try not to have a discussion, comparing your own experiences/feelings, unless it is relevant and encouraging for your teenager’s expression.