Suicidal Thoughts When You Are A Parent

I have been behind on posting. We had a string of guests and visitors, plus a string of beautiful weather, so I’ve been enjoying all of it! Throw a little sleep-training and old-fashioned procrastination on top of it, and that’s why we didn’t have a post last week and ate late this week! 

Today we are tackling the toughest of all mental health topics: suicide. This has been a hard post to write. For me to tackle resources for parents contemplating suicide seems so out of my depth. It’s like someone coming to me with stage 4 cancer asking “how should I be treat it, I don’t have an oncologist”. In my past, I have had suicidal thoughts, ideations, even an attempt. That is my only qualification to be speaking to this, and if you have any of the following  symptoms, please call for help (here are CanadianAmericanAustralian, and UK helpline resources). 

Postpartum Progress has an article that talks about suicide in “plain mama English“. They, and the Mayo Clinic,  describe warning signs of suicidal thinking as:

  • Talking about suicide, including making such statements as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to commit suicide, such as getting a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes, such as becoming very outgoing after being shy

Like so many things, when we look at suicide from the outside, we think of people who actively want to end their life. But being suicidal has varying scales. It can be as seemingly benign as the urge to walk off a ledge or just not turn your car when you go around a corner. It can be as intense as gathering supplies or stockpiling pills. For a long time, I didn’t recognize I was suicidal because I never really wanted to die. I was just fixated on very dark thoughts and actions. That kind of mindset, plus the stigma of being treated as “crazy” is the reason so many people don’t seek help at earlier stages. 

As a parent, you need to be well for your kids. You cannot pour from an empty cup. It is important to know that, though problems seem neverending, they inevitably do subside. Do not dismiss these thoughts and urges or to think you are overreacting by seeking help. Being suicidal does not make you an unfit parent, and seeking help makes you a good parent. Here’s an article from suicideprevention.ca to help you as well. 

Sometimes you may need to stay in hospital a short time. Our interview with Alison from The Nut Factory highlighted some tips about preparing for a visit. Know that there is no shame in being hospitalized, just as you would be for a heart attack or other physical ailment. Crisis lines can also help you troubleshoot care for your kids. 

Sometimes, when you have sought help or even started medication, you have to wait until you get some relief. Simon Fraser University has a worksheet designed to help you cope with suicidal thoughts while you wait for treatment to begin or start working. I love how this worksheet gives you the tools to keep yourself safe while also normalizing and empathizing with the thoughts you are having. 

One of the core principles of DBT therapy, and all mindfulness-based therapies, is that your thoughts are just thoughts. They can be enticing to grasp hold of, so much so sometimes that you can feel the urge to act right at your fingertips. If you have thoughts of suicide, please remember they are thoughts, they do not have to be turned into actions. If you are having them, try to avoid situations where you could act on them or things to act with. Seek help as soon as possible. Your children will never resent you for seeking that help.