Suicide survivor shares insight on prevention

WDBJ

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Kimberly Zapata is a MomsEveryday Panelist, a mother of one, a writer and a survivor of a suicide attempt. She now works to advocate for mental health and suicide prevention.

"There’s a big misconception that talking about suicide is going to trigger someone to have suicidal thoughts," Kim said. "Or, it’s going to give them the idea to begin thinking about it. It’s one of the greatest myths out there."

Kim says talking about suicide is a key element in preventing it because anyone having these types of thoughts is often feeling unloved, overwhelmed and like a burden to friends and family.

"The idea of them coming forward and asking for help, you’re not going to do it because you already feel that pressure and that burden. So if a parent approaches a child and they’re concerned about them maybe having suicidal thoughts or they’re concerned about just something going on in their life, having an open dialogue and introducing the word suicide, it’s like anything, by talking about it you remove the shame and the stigma and it can just become a normal part of the conversation," Kim said.

There are many major misconceptions when it comes to suicide that parents especially should know about.

"A few of the biggest misconceptions are that suicide looks the same for everybody," Kim said.

There are a lot of common warning signs, but not every child exhibits them. A few of these warning signs include:

  • Dropping grades in school
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Sleeping too much or not enough

"But it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing. And not all people experience it the same," Kim said. "For me, when I was suicidal and when I did try and take my life at 17, I was the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I was hyper-active in activities, I was involved in nine clubs and activities, I worked a part time job, I was a straight-A student."

Kim says that parents should use their own intuition regarding their children's feelings and behaviors.

"If you feel like something's wrong, regardless of whether you know if that's a suicidal thought, a mental health issue, possibly just some problems in school or with friends, I think it’s important we address it for what it is," Kim said. "Talk to them about it, ask them."

Anyone struggling with their mental health can find it difficult to come forward or even decide what they need to say. Kim suggests asking direct questions without accepting 'fine' as an answer.

If your child is in a crisis, it's important as a parent to not be in your own crisis when they need you.

"If you find your child in crisis, the first thing you need to do is get them help. The level of help you need and immediacy will of course vary. If they are attempting suicide the lifeline is 911. Get to a hospital," Kim said.

There are many resources available for anyone dealing with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts, even via chat and text.

  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Offers resources on suicide prevention and aids those affected by suicide.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - (800) 273-8255 (TALK) - Offering free, confidential emotional support for people and their loved ones in suicidal crisis or emotional stress.
  • The Crisis Text Line - Text "HOME" to 741741 for live, confidential help via text message with a Crisis Counselor.
  • The Lifeline Crisis Chat - Chat specialists are available to listen and support you through whatever difficult times you may be facing.

Whatever crisis your child may be dealing with, it's important for parents to avoid conveying their guilt in front of their child.

"You're going to feel guilty," Kim said. "I think it's a natural reaction because as a parent, you want to protect your children."

Kim says that when children in crisis, who already feel like a burden, see their parents' guilt, they feel even more of a burden for making their parents feel bad. The best thing parents can do is put their child's emotions first.