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When a Suicide Attempt Has No Warning Signs

Suicide. It’s a terrible word. One of the worst words for a parent to hear. As I was writing this, I received an email from the National Alliance on Mental Illness about suicide prevention. There are tons of posts on social media about suicide prevention because reports just came out about suicide rates being at an all time high.

This post is different than most posts about suicide. This is about impulsive suicide.

Last February, I got a call from my son’s school telling me I needed to come there.

They did not tell me why. When I got to the school, they told me to come sit down. I knew something bad had happened. They told me I needed to get my son evaluated. Wait, I need to go to the ER? I was so confused and disoriented. Everything had been OK. He was fine that morning. He was fine the day before.

The school informed me my son had suddenly tried to take his own life by running into oncoming traffic.

We went to the ER. They would not let him go home. I asked what would happen if I tried to take him home. I was told that was not an option. The hospital psychiatrist actually kept using the word suicide attempt. It was so hard to hear. He had talked about wanting to die before, he would bang his head for long periods of time trying to hurt himself, but suicide attempt? That is not something that any parent wants to hear.

As a parent of a child diagnosed with a mental illness, losing my child this way is my worst fear. Even just hearing him say he wants to kill himself is excruciatingly painful. He’s not currently in crisis. If you asked me today he’s suicidal right now, I would tell you no. Not at all. If you asked him, he would say he is fine. That day in February, I would have told you he wasn’t suicidal either. He would not have met any warning signs.

But my son is impulsive. His moods change rapidly and he gets angry and upset without understanding why he’s angry and upset. If something triggers him, his anger and sadness can quickly escalate.

Most suicides are planned. These can be prevented. You need to listen to people, take people seriously and look for the warning signs. This is important and crucial. We need to advocate for funding, for reducing stigma, for early intervention and resources.

But in some cases, suicide or suicide attempts are impulsive, unplanned acts. Some happen within five minutes of thinking about it for the first time. An article recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology states that “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, and impulsivity has emerged as a promising marker of risk.”

So what do we do about that?

When the incident happened last February. I was devastated. I was scared. He was scared. We were all scared. He acted impulsively. He could have died. Did he truly want to take his life or was he just angry and at that moment that was what his impulses told him to do? His flight reflex. I fear it will happen again.

Luckily, I was right there and was able to calm him down within an hour or so. But what happens when I am not there?

Suicide prevention is important. We need to know the warning signs and what to look out for. But we also need to learn more about the underlying causes of impulsivity and the illnesses that result in our children acting this way. We need funding for more research for mental illness in general — the causes, medications and therapies.

For now, how do we prevent that from happening again? I do not have the answers, but this is why I am doing what I do. More research needs to be done. As the email I received from the National Alliance on Mental Illness says, we need to advocate for funding, for answers, for the stigma to go away, for awareness.

We have to be vigilant. We have to learn triggers, continue to work on coping skills and how to manage and teach these children and make sure that behavioral programs in schools are adequate and appropriate.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on Think of Happy Things.

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