The Harmful Way People Responded to My 10-Year-Old Daughter's Suicide Attempt
This story has been published with permission from the author’s daughter.
If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Suicide. It comes up in the news after a celebrity takes their own life. It’s hot on social media for a few weeks, and then it fades back into the realm of taboo topics. It’s as if people think that if it’s not discussed, it will disappear — like a vaccine eradicates a deadly virus, it will fade into oblivion.
The brutal truth is that if it is not discussed, if it is not brought into and kept in the spotlight, people will continue to hide their or their family members’ mental illnesses. They will continue to cover up how their loved one really died. They will continue to feel ashamed or embarrassed of the truth behind an illness they have no control over.
In 2014 my daughter, at the young age of 10, tried to take her own life. She was being bullied at school and that was what tipped her over the edge. We don’t know whether she has a family history of depression, due to being adopted, but we know that we didn’t recognize any of the symptoms at home. We thought her behavior was hormones, or characteristics of her age. She was being raised in a home full of love and attention. She was actively involved in sports. She had plenty of friends.
For quite some time, I did not discuss what she had done. In her old school, I had already experienced how people would react. She was removed from school and not allowed to return to her classroom, while her bully continued to attend. We were told that if she went to any school function it would upset the other parents, therefore, please do not come. They only heard what my daughter had done, and were never told that it had happened after being bullied. Grown adults were afraid of my 10-year-old daughter. At her new school, I kept my mouth shut. I did not want her to be pushed out of her new school. I did not want people to treat her differently. I did not want people to be afraid of her. I wanted to spread the word and stop the stigma, but I only told those I was close to for fear of how my daughter would be treated.
It is a scary and confusing place to be as a parent, and surely as a child. As it was, about a year into her new school, a student went home and told their parent about the scars she had. The next day I got a call from the school. It was terrifying. The school was gracious and showed concern. The parent, however, was just worried about how it would affect their child. At the time, I knew exactly what this was. Once again a parent was afraid of my child. They thought it was “contagious.” As if mental illness can be “caught.” As if a child who was not suffering would think that cutting themselves seemed like a great idea. Another parent who thought this had something to do with my daughter’s family life. Absent parents? Abusive parents? They did not understand that this can happen to anybody.
My daughter tried to take her life at the age of 10. She is now 14 and is a bright, beautiful, insightful, thoughtful, loving and due her past reality, a slightly hardened, young lady. She’s tough. She’s been through a lot for such a young age and she is stronger for it. She knows what it feels like to be in that black hole with no idea how to get out. She knows more about how other children — and far too many adults — react to mental illness, and especially the word “suicide.” We’d like to change that.
Don’t be that person. Don’t judge someone who is going through a mental illness. Don’t assume what might be causing that illness, or what may have caused a suicide, or suicide attempt. Teach your children to show kindness and love, not to be afraid of, or stay away from, a child who has suffered with it. Lead by example. Show all of those thoughtful and loving traits that you would want another adult to show your child.
Unsplash photo via Jane Palash