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I used to think of all the things my sweet babe would need to learn in order to grow into the man I hoped to rear. He would be strong, a defender of the weak, humble, God-fearing, faithful, honest, loyal, and a good listener. I would teach him to cook, and clean and be self-sufficient so his future wife would have a true helpmeet. He would be a man with values and strong moral courage to stand up for what was right. He would be all of these things and more. What I didn’t plan for, is he would also be suicidal.
Hi – I’m Brandy, and I’m the mother of an 11 year old who has suicidal ideations!!!
I’m willing to bet you didn’t know depression and suicidal tendencies occurred in such young children. It’s a sad fact that more and more preteen boys and girls are having thoughts of self harm. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death in children from ages 10-18 according to the CDC!
I’m not here to give you a list of reasons why this happens, or even bore you with the specifics of the physiology of the human brain. What I do a want, is to encourage you or anyone who is raising such a child and help you understand that you’re not alone. So maybe you can find hope in my story and some normalcy in mental health and raising a child who struggles with major depression and suicidal thoughts. Here’s my story.
Three years ago my son’s father and I divorced. It was a surprise to me, and of course my, then 8-year-old, thought for certain he’d done something horrible to make his dad leave. My ex did not leave us gently either, for lack of a better word, he abandoned us. Left me with all the debt, all the bills, a child, and no way to take care of any of it. We were devastated! With much counsel and support from a loving Bishop we began family therapy with a licensed therapist to work through this difficult ordeal and the feelings that came with it.
During this time I knew I needed to find work that would support us. I had so me college classes but no degree that I could use. So I had some tough decisions to make and ended up going back to school full-time to become a nurse. The school I chose was accelerated, completing a 4 year Bachelor degree in 2.5 years. That meant I needed to make some sacrifices. Time was a precious commodity now. I went from being a stay-at-home-mom to full-time student and part-time employee within a very short period of time. This meant less time for fun and family. I tried as best as I could to only study when Ethen was a sleep or at school, leaving what little time I had left just for him. We talked about the sacrifices we had to make often, but still he struggled. He would cry to me saying how much he wanted time with me but knew how important it was I study. No amount of therapy helped. We persisted though.
There came a point when my ex moved back to the state we reside in and we agreed to a bi-monthly weekend visit. The time off for me was hard but a welcome reprieve. I missed him when he was gone, but enjoyed my time for self-care. Then trouble started really happening! Every time my kiddo would come home, he would be a terror for several days. Attitude, yelling, talking back, not doing homework or chores were constant struggles between us. As much as I assured him he was loved but insisted that rules be followed he would fight me. This only made power struggles more difficult. Come to find out, there’s very little structure and rules at his dad’s, a stark contrast to my home. We had so many conversations between us and with our therapist about the differences between our homes. Things only got worse.
Fourth grade was the worst year. Enter school yard bullies! Don’t get me wrong, my child is no angel, and I fully warned his teacher that year. I asked her to work with me, to help him learn to better control his emotions. That went out the window it seemed, because that year my son was suspended from school FOUR TIMES and the last time they actually wanted to expel him. He would be bullied and harassed at school and told “ignore it” when he would report it. Of course this direction doesn’t work and gives bullies more power, so after ignoring it for so long, my son couldn’t take it any longer and explode (verbally not physically thankfully). On one occasion, he was physically assaulted and yelled at the kid to not touch him. Guess who was suspended… if you guessed my son, you guessed right. When this happened, it broke my son. He had his first real moment of contemplating ending it all. He was 10.
I thank God that my relationship with Ethen is strong enough that he willingly confides in me these feelings. I’ll never forget that first time he told me that, while in his room, he held a knife to his heart. I grabbed him, hugged him, and we both cried. My anger and frustration about whatever had happened previously faded, and so many emotions took their place. I was afraid, sad, and relieved all at once. We went to therapy the next day, and determined he wasn’t currently (in that moment) a threat to himself, so we made a safety plan and continued on with life.
Things did not get easier though. He would spiral out of control emotionally. He was becoming lost to me. It didn’t help I was busy with school/work and he had an emotionally unavailable father. But we kept at it. Over the course of the following year and a half, he would make two more serious threats to his life. He would say to me things like he wished he’d never been born, or could be born over again so he could start over. He would say he wants to be good, but doesn’t feel he can ever be good so he might as well not be here at all.
The final straw was only a few weeks ago. We hit a major wall in this uphill journey. There was some argument about some insignificant topic that sent him spiraling and falling fast! He came downstairs crying carrying his pellet gun and BEGGING me to throw it out. He had held it to his head and was going to pull the trigger. Now a pellet gun is, technically a toy, but it uses compressed air to propel a pellet (about the size of a bb but more oblong shaped) out of the barrel. At close range and in direct contact with the temple (a soft tissue area of the head), it could have been very dangerous.
Panic set in! I threw the gun away and called our therapist immediately. We were at a point of no return! We had an emergency meeting with his therapist, this time he was asked on a scale of 0-10 how likely he was to hurt himself. Ethen responded with “an 8 or 9!” My heart sank! I was told to take my son to the emergency room for an emergent mental health evaluation. That was the longest drive of my life!
My son would spend the next five days in a mental health facility. It was the worst experience of my life, and certainly his. He hated being there, and begged me to take him home. He was there under a doctor’s order which meant I couldn’t take him even if I wanted to. Visits were very restricted and limited to 30 minutes every day, and only at specified times. There was also phone calls, but again, highly restricted time frames. I visited and called every day I could. Each time crying as I left the facility or hung up the phone. Where had I gone wrong?
The truth of the matter is I hadn’t done anything wrong. My child is simply one of the millions of Americans and American children who suffer with major depression. The chemicals in his brain do not function properly. It’s as simple as that, and nothing I did caused it. Though it doesn’t feel like that at all! We still have a very long road ahead of us, but he’s on the road to recovery.
We take it one day at a time. We maintain balance, structure, and I ensure he takes his medication as prescribed. I still keep open communication with him, laugh with him, snuggle with him, help him with homework, and everything else a parent does. Just like every other parent out there, but perhaps I’m more vigilant and must take EXTRA steps any other parent wouldn’t necessarily take to ensure his safety. All weapons are locked away with the keys in safes he doesn’t know the combination to and the kitchen knives, razor blades, even staples and glass are closely monitored to ensure he doesn’t use them to harm himself. It’s exhausting and scary!
This is my story about parenting a child with suicidal ideations. It is not at all what I ever imagined for my son, or for me as a parent. I’m learning new ways to parent. I’ve never prayed so hard in my life. I’ve reached out to my support systems and even found new support systems specifically for this. Our journey is far from over, in fact it’s really only begun. But I know that Heavenly Father loves us and he wants us to rely on him. He’s not going to magically take this away from us, but show us how to live with it. I trust the perfect parent, to show me how to be the parent my suicidal child needs!
Learn more about mental health and depression by visiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness website at www.NAMI.org – together we can end the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in our country!