Something that I realized lately is that the day I lost my daughter, she was completely alone. She was grounded, so I had taken her cell phone from her a month earlier. If you have a teen, been around a teen, or even seen a teen, you know their lives revolve around their cell phone. I took her phone for what I deemed to be detrimental to her already fragile state of mental health. The day she died, she was home alone. She was upset when the rest of the family left the house, and she refused to go with us. We had no idea that she was having suicidal ideations – I even wonder if perhaps she knew at the time we left. Anyway, she had access to the home phone, but only one friend’s number was programmed into it from years earlier (Who uses a home phone these days, right?) and (we thought) she had access to her laptop. I say “we thought” because we had no idea that her computer hard drive had crashed at some point and was unusable. In fact, we have deduced through our very limited information about what went on that day that this may have even been the final straw for her.
At some point in the day, she did call the one friend who was programmed into the home phone and she could have used the home phone to call me or my husband, but for whatever reason, she didn’t. When she began to feel hopeless, she had only two people to call – her mom whom she thought she’d disappointed or a friend she’d recently began feeling disconnected from. That’s it. When she began her downward spiral, she was effectively alone. When she got the point of extreme hopelessness, she was alone. Who knows if having other people to reach out to would have made any difference – I even called twice to check on her that day, but she ignored my calls – but I will always wonder if she had someone to call if I’d still have my daughter here today.
So, what are these three things I think every
struggling teen should have access to at all times?
- Reminders to use their coping skills posted everywhere – what are some common coping skills that can help your teen calm down before the situation spirals out of control? If you aren’t familiar with coping skills, they are simply activities that are designated by your teen that they enjoy doing to calm down. Some examples can be coloring, dancing, watching funny videos, or texting with a trusted friend. Basically, you are looking for easy to access items that can be grabbed in an instant. Coping skills boxes that are created by your teen are a great way to store these items. If you don’t have the relationship with your teen yet to sit down with them to come up with ideas, but know they would benefit from learning some coping skills, then ask the school’s guidance counselor, your child’s therapist, or a friend or trusted adult to help your teen identify some things they would like to try. Then, place them in the box and next time you notice your teen getting worked up, encourage him or her to try out some of the skills. The hard thing about this is catching the downward spiral at the onset because she will be less likely to be open to using the box once the situation has gotten too heavy.
- A list of phone numbers of trusted friends and adults that he can reach out to when things get too hard. As much as we would love to believe that our beloved would choose to come to us in a moment of crisis, that simply isn’t how these things usually go. If you list someone as a trusted friend or adult, tell them they’ve been put on this list so they know to answer the phone when they see your child’s name in the caller i.d. Simply programming these numbers into their phone is not enough – remember, my daughter didn’t have access to her phone that did have all of her contacts in it. Let’s face it, chances are good you will also feel the need to restrict phone or computer privileges at some point- the list still needs to be accessible to them during these time. Also, there needs to be a high level of trust, so you as the parent have to know that if she calls your best friend to talk, you don’t get to ask questions. The trusted friend or adult also needs to be made aware of the high level of confidence being placed upon them and that they should only share what is being said if the teen is in immediate danger. This is so important!
- All the numbers of Suicide Prevention hot-lines out there. You never know which one your teen will connect best with. There are so many different ones to choose from – call-in, text, online, and LGBTQ just to name a few. Do some research and compile an exhaustive list.
Now, completing these three steps is just part of it. Making a list of names and numbers or a box of coping skills will do you no good if they aren’t out in the open where they will be easily seen and located. I suggest putting the lists on the fridge, one in the bedroom or bathroom, and another inside the lid of the coping skills box. This will ensure that if your teen goes into crisis mode, they will be able to easily locate this list even if you are not home.
My daughter had a bag of coping skills, though I couldn’t tell you where it was. Also, I had always meant to make a list like numbers 2 and 3 above, but I never
got around to it made time for it. I do believe that had I done this, there’s a good chance she would have chosen differently on that fateful day.