Last night my daughter tried to kill herself. This is not a sentence that trips lightly off the tongue. It’s hard to admit your child is so desperate they want to die. But it’s not the first time I’ve had to say these words. It may not be the last, either.
This time is particularly difficult, because she’s making such remarkable progress. In six, joy-filled weeks, we have seen our daughter emerge from the iron grip of her crippling depression and start to embrace life again.
But we’ve always known her recovery wasn’t going to be straight-forward. Recovering from depression is often described as ‘one step forward, one step backwards’. This is hard, because each step forward brings the promise that, one day, this terrible illness will be a distant memory. The steps back are cruel reminders that you’re still a long way from ‘better’.
‘I just want to be happy,’ Nora said, as I eased the knife from her hand last night. The knife she had taken from the dishwasher when she sneaked downstairs, looking for something she could use to kill herself.
Nora will be happy again. She’s already had many precious moments of happiness over the last six weeks. There are many more to come.
There’s a particular challenge in helping young people with depression. Their brains are not fully developed yet. They haven’t had the same breadth and depth of life experiences as adults. A combination of these factors can make them more prone to suicidal thoughts and tendencies than older people suffering from depression.
When a depressed adolescent is having a bad day, they are simply unable to imagine a time when their life won’t be plagued by this illness.
They want to be happy. But the illness means that’s not possible. The illness makes them believe they’ll never be happy again. And they cannot imagine having to keep on living a life without joy.
So…what can a parent do?
You keep going
You accept your sick child will have bad days, alongside the good. You let them know this isn’t their fault.
You love them, unconditionally, and do all you can to keep them safe
Let them know you’re with them, through the bad times as well as the good. Let them know they can talk to you, share their worries with you and you will listen.
You never forget this is harder for them
This is important. It’s too easy to feel sorry for yourself, to ask yourself ‘why me?’ or – worst of all – to try to blame your child for their illness.
If you find yourself thinking this way, stop.
Your child is suffering and they need you to be strong. They need you to be there for them, no matter how bad things get.
And they need you to never, ever stop believing you’ll get through this – together.