What you need to know:
She has lost interest in her favourite activities, has withdrawn from family and friends, and has become dirty and grown too thin. I’m disturbed.
Q: I have a daughter who is 17. She has been keeping herself locked in her room and rarely talks with her younger siblings. She only leaves her room while going to school or when getting something from the kitchen. She has become very irritable and she accuses me of not wanting her. Recently, she shouted at me that she wants to leave us and die because she won’t be hated by anyone. She has lost interest in her favourite activities, has withdrawn from family and friends, and has become dirty and grown too thin. I’m disturbed. I am scared of initiating a conversation with her. I am just praying that one morning she will wake up fine. Some of her friends found ‘goodbye messages’ in her diary. What should I do?
A: From your letter, all the signs that your daughter is exhibiting indicate that she is contemplating suicide. So you must not deny the severity of the problem or attempt to negotiate it away. This is the painful reality, hence the need for committed and purposeful attention. When suicide is on your daughter’s mind, she does not necessarily want to end her life; but it is mostly because she wants to end her pain. That primary goal is one you can share with your child. That said, you can let her know that there are always alternative ways to reach that place of peace, relief, and control— without ending her life. Listening to your daughter is one of the powerful ways to help her even if it is the last thing you want to do. This is due to the fact that your child is in pain, and when you reject that pain, she may feel as if you are rejecting her.
You, therefore, need to demonstrate unconditional trust by making it known that you are totally open to listening and that you love and accept her, no matter what. While listening to her, do not dismiss her problems; if they are disturbing her, they should also matter to you. Instead, reassure your daughter of your love. Remind her that she can work through whatever is going on — and that you are willing to help. It is unwise to wait and see before reaching out for professional help. The problem is real and complicated, and when there is a risk of suicide, the door to healing must be unlocked urgently by seeking a professional psychologist.
Therapy for suicidal ideation begins with showing love and empathy. Along the way, it might help to find a mental health professional who has experience in dealing with suicidal children. Make an effort to get involved in her recovery process. All the best