5 Ways to Help a Teenager Whose Friend Attempted Suicide
The Difficult Friendship Problem I asked my friend, Annie Fox, to discuss involves suicide. It's a tough subject to talk about but Annie said, "Yes."
I asked Annie because she is launching her new book, The Girls' Q & A Book on Friendship. I loved the format she used in her book and hoped she'd discuss my questions using the same format. She did.
Here Are My 5 Questions:
1. What advice would you give a girl who’s deeply affected by her friend’s recent suicide attempt?
Parents should be open to having conversations with their daughter about her feelings. She may not want to talk, but an encouraging, invitation to talk is important. Parents might say something like this, “We are upset about what happened. And of course, we see that you are too. We need to talk about it, as a family.” Obviously, parents can’t answer the question the girl might be focused on: “Why did she do it?” No one knows why. The friend herself may not exactly know why. And that frustration in not knowing, should acknowledged along with the fear behind this question: “What if she tries to do it again?”
Parents should be on the look-out for signs that their daughter is not bouncing back from this shock. Is she having trouble sleeping? Changing patterns of eating? Less interested in activities that usually give her joy and satisfaction? Pushing away parents and friends? Shutting down conversation about how she’s feeling and/or acting? If the girl who is “deeply affected” by her friend’s troubled act, does not seem to be showing resilience in a week or so, she may need to speak with a counselor or a therapist. I always encourage parents who are concerned about the emotional well-being of their teens to seek professional help. The school counselor is a good place to start. If needed, he or she can probably provide some recommendations for family therapists in the community.
2. What can the girl do to help herself deal with the shock?
As I said above, the most important way of dealing with the shock is to have a safe place to talk about the shock and the residual feelings/thoughts in as much detail as needed. This is probably best accomplished with the support of a community-based psychologist or a licensed MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist). Choose someone who specializes in working with teens and depression. Not to infer that the girl is “depressed” but a therapist with this kind of experience is well-versed in helping people who are affected by a close friend or family member suffering from depression.
3. How can the girl help her friend want to keep living?
That’s a tricky one! A girl, who is so troubled that she would attempt to take her own life, has deep problems that no friend, no matter how compassionate and encouraging, is equipped to handle. It’s important that the girl recognize this, otherwise she’s likely to think it is her job, as a bff, to help her friend want to keep living. And if, heaven forbid, the friend has another downward turn and again attempts suicide (which is often the case, especially with girls) well, some day she is likely to succeed in ending her life. If that happened, it would be an added tragedy for the girl to feel guilty or in any way to blame herself for her friend’s death.
Hopefully, the friend is getting the ongoing treatment she needs to feel happier and healthier, and to minimize her risk of spiraling down. There are things, though, that the girl can do to help her friend in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. For example, she should continue being the wonderful, caring friend she’s always been. She may also take on the role of a “buffer” to help protect her friend from the comments of others. What often happens in these situations, after a suicide attempt (especially when word gets out) other people may be unkind or insensitive to the girl who attempted to kill herself. That’s not going to make things easy for her at school or online.
4. What should the girl say to the kids at school who are curious about it?
It is not the girl’s job to be a spokesperson or a communications director for her friend. For anyone who approaches her for “comment”, the best response would be to say something like this, “She doing better and she doesn’t want to talk about it. I’m sure you can understand. I’m her friend and I respect that. You should respect that too. She just wants to be treated like normal. We can all do that, right?”
5. Is there anything the girl’s family can do for her friend’s family?
Teen suicide is the 3rd cause of death in US teens (11%), after accidents (48%) and homicides (13%). Yet there is a strong social stigma on suicide plus the inference that the victim’s parents are somehow to blame. This prevents parents (who are already confused, distraught and feeling isolated) from reaching out for support. It also makes friends and family reluctant to reach out. If the girl’s family is close to the friend’s family, then it would be a kind and compassionate act to pick up the phone and show your support. It may not be the easiest conversation to begin, but you might simply say, “I heard about what happened, and I just want you to know that I care about ____ and I’m thinking about you and your family.” Simple words that could have such a positive effect on the friend’s parents.
I hope you can see Annie's wisdom in her replies to my questions. You'll find the same thoughtful answers in the 50 questions real girls asked Annie. None of the questions are about suicide but they are about the many social challenges girls face when friends let them down.
Pick Up Annie's Brand New Book:
The Girls' Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the DRAMA
Available at: Amazon.com
Let's give SPECIAL THANKS to Annie Fox for answering the tough questions about friendship and suicide.
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With warm wishes,
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