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The Children's Corner: After Suicide Talking About Mental Illness to Children
Monday, July 01, 2013 by LOSS Program

Imagine a grieving ten year old child trying to understand the suicide of a family member. Sometimes, this conversation is necessary with a child as young as seven. When we recall the complexity of an adult’s reach to comprehend a loved one’s death as a result of mental illness, we may appreciate the ways in which a child is emotionally and cognitively undeveloped to approach this subject. Yet, children’s grief experts encourage honesty with children about a suicide death. In the LOSS Program for Children and Youth, we suggest a conversation about suicide when the child is at a developmental level that grasps an understanding that death is biological and irreversible. The child is included in this special grief process at an age that allows them to incrementally process the loss with those they love and trust. Over time, we can prepare our children to advocate for themselves and the person who died with courage and compassion.

The conversation begins with an explanation that the deceased loved one’s brain was sick, and he or she made their body stop working. Eventually, more questions will come forth: “Why was the brain sick? What kind of sickness was in my dad’s brain?” Confronting mental illness can be challenging for children who had adjusted to a parent’s or sibling’s depression or mood swings, as younger children rarely question the emotional presentation of their loved ones. Additionally, some suicides occur after mental illness has been masked. Our loved one seemed engaged with friends and family, active with work, school or job search. How difficult it is to incorporate the notion of an illness that we could not see! For an adult, integrating a suicide loss often begins with stunned disbelief, anger and a devastating sense of abandonment. Children, too, may have similar grief responses if they grapple with assumptions about sadness and worry versus love and commitment to the family. Is it possible to help a child appreciate a difference between normal sadness and worry and mental illness?

We can begin with: The suicide happened as a result of severe depression, a mental illness. Some depression is not very strong and does not last a long time. Many people have experienced depression and do not die from suicide.

Severity and Duration: For our loved one, the sadness and worry were very, very strong. Almost all of the thoughts were about sadness and worry. It had been going on for a long time.

Distortion: The brain could not think clearly about the sadness and worry. The brain could not think about the fact that death is forever.

Hopelessness: Our loved one believed that the sadness and worry would never go away.

Isolation: Our loved one could not talk about the very strong sadness and worry.

Masking: Our loved one did not want to show that he or she was feeling extreme sadness and worry. This is why

Intolerance for the pain of depression: Our loved one was so very worried and sad that he or she only wanted the pain to end right away. Sometimes, suicide can happen all of a sudden. Because he or she could not think clearly, there was no way to think about how it would affect you and me. This does not mean that our loved one did not love us, and it does not mean that our loved one did not love life.

You will use your own words to explain the difficult concept of suicide to a young person. Stay open to questions. Don’t discuss graphic details. When children ask about the method in which your loved one ended his or her life, limit your answer to, “He took pills. He used a rope. She jumped from a bridge.” If your loved one was under psychiatric care, you can explain that, like other serious illnesses, sometimes doctors can fix the illness, and sometimes they cannot.

Your child will need to feel the sadness and loss as the result of mental illness, not as a result of character or craziness, or with lack of love for the family. With time, you will find ways to celebrate your loved one’s life.


Please continue to send your "Children's Corner" topics to cwaderlow@catholiccharities.net.



Archives:

The Children's Corner: After Suicide Talking About Mental Illness to Children
Monday, July 01, 2013 by LOSS Program

Imagine a grieving ten year old child trying to understand the suicide of a family member. Sometimes, this conversation is necessary with a child as young as seven. When we recall the complexity of an adult’s reach to comprehend a loved one’s death as a result of mental illness, we may appreciate the ways in which a child is emotionally and cognitively undeveloped to approach this subject. Yet, children’s grief experts encourage honesty with children about a suicide death. In the LOSS Program for Children and Youth, we suggest a conversation about suicide when the child is at a developmental level that grasps an understanding that death is biological and irreversible. The child is included in this special grief process at an age that allows them to incrementally process the loss with those they love and trust. Over time, we can prepare our children to advocate for themselves and the person who died with courage and compassion.

The conversation begins with an explanation that the deceased loved one’s brain was sick, and he or she made their body stop working. Eventually, more questions will come forth: “Why was the brain sick? What kind of sickness was in my dad’s brain?” Confronting mental illness can be challenging for children who had adjusted to a parent’s or sibling’s depression or mood swings, as younger children rarely question the emotional presentation of their loved ones. Additionally, some suicides occur after mental illness has been masked. Our loved one seemed engaged with friends and family, active with work, school or job search. How difficult it is to incorporate the notion of an illness that we could not see! For an adult, integrating a suicide loss often begins with stunned disbelief, anger and a devastating sense of abandonment. Children, too, may have similar grief responses if they grapple with assumptions about sadness and worry versus love and commitment to the family. Is it possible to help a child appreciate a difference between normal sadness and worry and mental illness?

We can begin with: The suicide happened as a result of severe depression, a mental illness. Some depression is not very strong and does not last a long time. Many people have experienced depression and do not die from suicide.

Severity and Duration: For our loved one, the sadness and worry were very, very strong. Almost all of the thoughts were about sadness and worry. It had been going on for a long time.

Distortion: The brain could not think clearly about the sadness and worry. The brain could not think about the fact that death is forever.

Hopelessness: Our loved one believed that the sadness and worry would never go away.

Isolation: Our loved one could not talk about the very strong sadness and worry.

Masking: Our loved one did not want to show that he or she was feeling extreme sadness and worry. This is why

Intolerance for the pain of depression: Our loved one was so very worried and sad that he or she only wanted the pain to end right away. Sometimes, suicide can happen all of a sudden. Because he or she could not think clearly, there was no way to think about how it would affect you and me. This does not mean that our loved one did not love us, and it does not mean that our loved one did not love life.

You will use your own words to explain the difficult concept of suicide to a young person. Stay open to questions. Don’t discuss graphic details. When children ask about the method in which your loved one ended his or her life, limit your answer to, “He took pills. He used a rope. She jumped from a bridge.” If your loved one was under psychiatric care, you can explain that, like other serious illnesses, sometimes doctors can fix the illness, and sometimes they cannot.

Your child will need to feel the sadness and loss as the result of mental illness, not as a result of character or craziness, or with lack of love for the family. With time, you will find ways to celebrate your loved one’s life.


Please continue to send your "Children's Corner" topics to cwaderlow@catholiccharities.net.