• December 17, 1999. This day will stand out in my memory forever and ever. It was the day my whole family would change forever. Why, you may ask. Was some new family-member born? No. Did someone die? No. It was on this day that the whole meaning of family would become clear - to me, at least.

    Maniac. I have grown used to that word. My brother "is a maniac", everyone says. But nobody knows him. Nobody wants to. On December 17, 1999 my brother tried to take his life by jumping off a bridge. Sometimes failure is better than success - this was one of those times. He hardly got hurt, and my whole family was thankful that he escaped with nothing more serious than a bruised back or so that's what everyone thought. Little did they know that this incident would mean one and a half years of serious treatment and a lifelong sentence to antidepressants. My brother would have to be treated for depression.

    It was hard to tell who was really depressed during the next few months - my brother, my parents or me. This had come as a real shock to me, and I was shaken out of my school routine completely. I knew I had begun to do badly at school, but I didn't know why. I tried to smile and laugh as much as I always did, but this incident had left me shocked and scared. I was extremely angry, afraid and jealous inside (sometimes now I still am) - everyone had begun paying a lot more attention to my depressed brother, and I was pushed into the background. The psychologist would say "family counseling" and it would mean only my parents and brother. I'm sure the doctor had no idea that my brother even HAD a sister, and, ironically, this made me loathe everyone, most of all my family.

    I needed somebody to confide in. I confided in a good friend, and that helped me a little. I tried ignoring the angry feelings, but they made me want to burst. I couldn't tell my parents, of course, not when they themselves were struggling to come to terms with the near-tragedy. I did the worst thing I possibly could have - I kept it bottled up inside me. This, in fact, is the first time I decided to tell everybody about my "family problem."

    For a year the atmosphere in my house was miserable. Not even Satan would have wanted to come within 20 feet of the door. Even my cat seemed to sense that something was wrong, and she would cuddle up against my brother and purr. She too ignored me, and I retaliated by ignoring her. The year that followed was a tense one. Everyone was always on the brink of a tantrum. It became impossible to smile, because everyone around me was always glowering and glaring. Living in my house was hell.

    Now it's almost two years since the day that changed my family. My family has stopped talking about it, and has decided to let bygones be bygones. Things are almost back to normal, and I couldn't be more happy.

    A lot of my school friends refuse to come home because they think that my brother is a "maniac." I don't really care. Nobody knows what he had to go through that one year. Nobody realizes that it wasn't anyones fault, it just happened; nobody except my family.

    As I listen to him strumming his guitar softly, I am overwhelmed with happiness. Nobody deserves to be more happy than he does. Nobody, not even me. And if it makes him happy  to sit in a corner, strumming his guitar and asking me to sing along, then it makes me happy too. After all, I AM his sister, and I DO love him very much.

    And no matter what anyone else says, I always will be his sister.

    (December 2001)

  • The rate of suicide in teenagers is alarmingly high, but with the societal taboo on suicide, you may be unclear which behaviors are symptoms of suicide and which are not. Regardless, if you are worried for your child's safety as a result of their behavior, it is likely they need counseling whether or not they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. However, knowing the signs and symptoms are a necessary way to determine the severity of your child's situation. Here are a few alarming behaviors and whether or not your child is at risk.

    teen with arms crossed head down contemplating

    Self-Harm, Cutting or Otherwise

    Self-harm is an act many teenagers commit. Best known is cutting, but self-harm can take many forms including, self-starvation, burning, substance abuse, avoidance of sleep, poor eating habits, and hitting inanimate objects. Of course, all of these behaviors are worrisome and likely will require counseling. Yet contrary to popular belief, self-harmers are usually not suicidal.

    Self-harm is a coping method employed by many teens to stay alive. Many report needing to "feel alive" and utilizing self-harm to remind themselves that they exist and have purpose. Others say they self-harm to numb emotional pain; pain that would otherwise cause them to feel suicidal. Though cutting in particular often seems like a suicide attempt, it is actually an attempt to avoid suicide.

    If your child is self-harming, remain calm and understanding. If they are in such emotional turmoil that they feel the need to injure themselves, the last thing they need is the guilt of making you upset. From there, seek professional help. If professional help is out of your reach, you may want to offer some ways to wean your child off of self-harm such as snapping a rubber band on their wrists, holding an ice cube, drawing red lines where they might normally cut, and other such replacements.

    Discussion of Dying or Loss of the Desire to Live

    Many people incorrectly believe that if a person talks about wanting to die, they are simply seeking attention. However in actuality, most suicidal people will mention their desire to end their life in a final attempt to get help. Never take discussion of death lightly.

    If your child mentions wanting to die or how they might prefer to die, take it seriously. Sit them down, have an open, calm discussion about suicide and their mental state. Listen and ask questions but under no circumstances are you to make the discussion about how their suffering affects you. Turning things around onto yourself will make the teen feel guilty, ashamed, and unheard.

    Isolation from Friends and Family

    Isolation from family is not necessarily a cause for concern. If your child does not feel secure in your home, they are less likely to want to spend time there. For example, if your family is intolerant of the LGBTQA community and your teen is concealing the fact that they are gay, it is only natural that they would want to spend time with friends they can be themselves around.

    However withdrawing from all loved ones is a definite sign of depression and suicide. Even if the isolation is not by choice, lack of socialization can be the cause of depression and suicidal thoughts. Seek professional help and consider getting your teen involved with social groups such as hobby clubs, sports, or school activities.

    Depression and suicide are all too common in teens. With the current statistics, preventing suicide can seem like a monumental task. In reality, suicide prevention is more often a matter of talking openly with your teen, listening calmly, and creating an accepting, loving atmosphere in the home.

    It is important to remember that even the most loving and accepting family can produce a teen with depression. This is where listening comes into play. If your child tells you that they are depressed, it is your job to listen and get them the help they need. Something as simple as that can prevent that depression from worsening and resulting in suicidal thoughts.

    Image via Pixabay by bngdesigns