What if my child shuts down?
If your teenager ‘closes down’ and refuses to talk, Erina advises parents to gently insist on having a talk with them about what has occurred.
“Acknowledge the pain and sense of total isolation felt by the friend who attempted or committed suicide, and talk about ways the friend could have reached out to others. Your child is aware of the impact on themself and on others, and therefore aware that the friend was not as isolated as they believed. That in itself is a good start to discussing the event.”
“Be flexible in your expectations of your teenager as they may be feeling numb and not able to ‘think straight’”
Erina warns that some teens may even regress in an unconscious desire to return to the pre-suicide world of ‘innocence’.
“Watch closely, and understand. Be flexible in your expectations of your teenager as they may be feeling numb and not able to ‘think straight’. Support them through this time with your presence and reassurance.”
Looking after your teen’s health
Diet and sleep will probably also be affected when your teenager is upset.
“Your teenager may need you to be with them at night, like when they were small and had a nightmare. This time, however, the nightmare is real,” says Erina.
“Any stress reaction causes suppression of the immune system”
Diet is also important during the grieving process, and easily-digested foods are best at first, such as soups, yoghurt, cereals, and sandwiches. “Multivitamin capsules or increased B vitamins may be a good idea if your child is eating less,” adds Erina. “Any stress reaction causes suppression of the immune system, so diet, rest, and emotional support are vital to buffer the body against vulnerability to illness.”
Erina warns that if sleep disturbance or the depth of response to the suicide event increases, or if parents feel that they are not able to provide the necessary degree of support, they should seek professional help, starting with their general practitioner.
Helping your teen accept the transition into adulthood
As Erina states, “Life is change, and change is loss in some form”.
She reminds parents that such a difficult event in your teenager’s life may be an extremely important time in your relationship with your child.
“Life is change, and change is loss in some form”
“It may be a time of closeness and bonding, and a chance to relate to them on their terms, honouring their experience, and relating in a deeply connected way,” says Erina. “It could be a chance for them to experience you as a genuine friend as well as a parent, and reaffirm and expand your relationship at this particularly difficult time in their lives. As such, it could provide you both with valuable insights about each other, and a strengthened bond which will support them further on their journey into adulthood.”
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263).
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ReachOut.com has fact sheets for teenagers on handling grief