Inevitably, every few months we hear of highly successful people like TV personalities, fashion icons, musicians, authors and movie stars who have committed the ultimate desperate act. Suicide.
Hearing these stories evokes a broad range of reactions from profound sadness or anxiety to anger and frustration. Of course, its natural to react to this kind of news with sadness, especially if you admired the persons skills, talent or success. Anxiety is also understandable if you or someone you know has suffered from severe or chronic depression. It brings the uncomfortable topic to the forefront.
I want to present a different and possibly controversial point of view on suicide, but before I do, I want to explain why I feel like I may have some honest justification for my feelings of frustration on the topic.
Like too many others, I was a neglected and abused kid who had some “undiagnosed differences”. I struggled to connect and relate to other kids, I missed a lot of social cues, which left me with few friends, and in spite of being “gifted,” I got completely lost in school and didn’t do well. As a result, I was isolated, misunderstood, and depressed.
By the time I was 19, I was spiraling into a deep, dark, all-consuming depression. This combined with drug and alcohol use sent me into hopeless bleak places in my mind, places that I would revisit several times before I finally broke free, and all this was made more challenging because I didn’t have a foundation of understanding in my home life.
Studies show that being truly connected to others and understood by your tribe (your family or friends) is the key to freedom from suicidal depression (actually most forms of depression), yet we hesitate to connect with those who are suffering, and to make matters worse we often spew advice without ever really listening. As parents, friends or family members who know someone who is suicidality depressed, we must learn to listen without giving advice, or assuming we know how they feel. You can learn more about how connections help people heal here.
How did I learn all this?
When I was 23, I became chronically sick like many people who suffer from deep depression. I once again found myself in the doctors office, and as I sat on the examination table, I began to talk about how depressed and hopeless I felt. I can’t explain why I opened up, when I look back I think it was because he was really listening, compassionately.
At some point he asked me, “Do you sometimes think about killing yourself?” I remember feeling shocked by his straight forward and frank awareness of my state of mind. He then went on to tell me that he can’t imagine how hard that must be for me. I remember crying so hard and so long that I began to wonder if I could stop. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I don’t want to lose a patient ever, including you. I want you to talk to someone who will understand and help you. Can you do that?” Though I was uncomfortable with his caring attitude, I followed his advice. He referred me to a therapist, and though she wasn’t a good fit, and it took me 3 tries before I found someone with whom I could truly connect, I didn’t give up, and finally, I got the help I so desperately needed in the form of a compassionate and understanding therapist.
That doctor took me seriously, he didn’t brush me off because I was presenting uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. THAT is key. When people attempt to take their lives or think about taking their lives, they too often get brushed off. Why? Because, as someone who cares, we just don’t want to go there. We tell ourselves “it will pass” or that it’s just a bad day, but we have to ask ourselves, is it worth the risk?
How hard is it to just commit to listening compassionately?
The best short conversations on Compassionate Listening
So, here are my controversial thoughts on understanding and connecting with people who are suicidality depressed:
*Don’t go too easy on them by ignoring or dismissing their thoughts and feelings. Connect by being compassionate and letting them know you are trying to understand what they are going through.
*Don’t take their power away by trying to solve their problems (giving advice). Listen, be there, be sincere and be available.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, each year 44,965 Americans die by suicide and yet we remain dismissive and ignorant about depression and it’s causes (lack of connection and understanding). We are less connected then ever in human history, so the need to connect is more challenging, and more necessary than ever.
Listening and connection, and keeping a close eye on moods and relationships is the only way to deal with anyone, especially the Neurodiverse and those under the age of 21 (because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that thinks, plans and sees the big picture is not fully developed and may even be hindered by hormones). This is not a time for ‘Buck up Buttercup”, but it couldn’t hurt to gently inform them about what they contribute to our lives.
Of course, there are special circumstances like being terminally ill, out of touch with reality (psychotic) or chronically abused. These are honest and very real reasons people lose hope or act impulsively and require unlimited compassion, listening and connection, and immediate help.
When we think someone 'has it all' but doesn’t connect with others (can’t vs. won’t is another topic), it becomes our responsibility to get though to that part of them that is desperate for connection and understanding, because in reality… no one has it all.
All humans, even introverts, need to connect.
So, yes, when recently I heard another news story about an outrageously successful and talented person who took their own life, I felt frustrated and ready to say the unthinkable “Where were the people in their lives that claimed to care, and why didn’t they try to understand?” I’m not saying it’s easy to listen to and understand someone who is spinning in a black hole of depression. It’s not, but YOU, if you care, need to stand up and be there, fully, completely present and unabashed. This is not a time to check out, forget or be too busy…
Many people are afraid to talk to someone who is suicidal. They are afraid they will say something to make it worse. Showing you care by listening and being honest won’t make it worse. You don't need to solve their problems, but listening (and connecting), just may save a life.
Don’t ignore, run away or hide from someone you know to be in that dark space, reach in, tell them you will listen, be real, connect with them.
Every connection counts, no matter how small.
Let’s start some conversations about real authentic compassion, understanding and connection!
If you are reading this and you are feeling suicidality depressed I have three things I want you to know:
1. There is a life for you free from those dark feelings. I get it and there is help out there from other people who get it too!
2. Get help. suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
3. Watch/Share this video:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Follow The Thought Wrangler and Parenting The Extraordinary Blogs for relatable, real life stories, information and comfort on this journey by subscribing to receive the latest blog articles fresh from the keyboard!
Does this sound familiar?
“I don’t care if he has Asperger’s/HFA, he needs to learn he can’t just say what he’s thinking!”
“ADHD is no excuse, she needs to pay attention.”
“You need to be more consistent. You should make a chart with rewards and punishments.”
“My kids ate what I put in front of them or they didn’t eat at all.”
“You shouldn’t let her do anything until all of her home work is done. If she complains or has a fit, then take away devices until it’s done.”
“He needs to do as he’s told, you just don’t command enough respect.”
“Reward the good behavior, punish the bad.”
It would be surprising if you’d never heard these things because they are very typical of parenting advice given by both other parents and by professionals.
To some extent, they are correct… IF you have a child/teen who is completely Neuro Typical (NT), meaning a kid with no developmental delays at all.
In most cases, the average kid with no challenges and little anxiety is able to follow instructions, process what’s expected, and comply.
For instance, if you say to an average NT kid, “When you’re finished with your homework, then you can play on your tablet until dinner”, he might make a face or complain a little, ask for help if needed, and then get the work done to get his tablet time.
For a kid with delays it may not be so simple.
First of all, many of these children cannot ask for help. What does that mean? It means they know it’s hard for them to do the work, but they cannot communicate why. In children with developmental delays the part of the brain that connects intellectual information to the part of the brain that handles emotions and feelings is not fully developed. In other words, even if they do know why the work is difficult (ex: didn’t understand the directions) their brains can’t always organize words in a way that allows them to communicate that clearly.
In situations like these they are struggling to adhere to expectations and getting frustrated with their own inability to explain or even understand themselves. Their anxiety begins to rise quickly because they know that something is expected of them, but they can’t comply (notice it’s not “won’t comply”), so they become emotionally dysregulated.
If you decide to punish them by saying, “no tablet until that work is done.”, their frustration and anxiety will continue to rise and the ability to use expressive language to communicate will diminish even more, increasing the likelihood of more emotional dysregulation and a full-on meltdown. Not a tantrum which is a fit based on not getting one’s way, but a meltdown which is caused by emotional overload. It’s interesting to note that a tantrum can be stopped by giving the kid what they want, and a meltdown cannot be stopped until emotional equilibrium or a sense of safety has resumed.
To avoid overload and meltdowns, it’s important to know what a kid can do, and to take into account how much that ability can change as circumstances change. Dr. Ross Greene, behavioral child psychologist, credits his profound success in helping behaviorally challenged children with his philosophy, “Children do better if they CAN.” Anyone who has put this philosophy into practice has learned pretty quickly that it really works, not just for children with delays, but for all of us!
If you are struggling with any kind of behavior issues I highly recommend his book. The Explosive Child, The: A New Approach For Understanding And Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children
Dr. Ross Greene explains how to help kids do better
A kid who is emotionally dysregulated needs help finding what Dr. Greene calls “The unsolved problem that causes the behavior”. Truly understanding this means that we have to be willing to constantly adjust our expectations to meet the needs of a brain that is processing in it’s own very unique way.
Now, you may say, “He knows how to do the work, he just doesn’t want to. He did it yesterday with no problems.” Well, that was yesterday, and yesterday he didn’t have the onslaught of social and emotional challenges he had today (many of which you may be unaware of), which have pushed him to the limits of his ability, as a result the part of his brain that should be using rational thinking is off line and he really can’t tap into what he knew yesterday.
To make matters worse, we often punish the behavior (which is a result of this overwhelm) by taking away the very things that help his brain regulate, like playing games, watching videos, building Legos, reading comics, or riding his bike. This often results in a kid with tremendous anxiety and very little emotional control.
Whether it’s not eating what’s put in front of him, not brushing his teeth because of Sensory Processing issues, or speaking without thinking about how his words feel to another, or forcing a kid with ADHD to sit at attention for long periods of time, the problem is the same. These kids are not making the neural connections that allow them to handle these things intuitively.
To get an idea of how it feels to be put in a situation that is beyond your current abilities, imagine your boss came to you and said, “From now on I only want you to speak French or your paycheck will be docked $50 for every word you say in English.”, but not only are you slightly hearing impaired you also don’t speak much French. It wouldn’t be long before you wouldn’t have a paycheck, and you would also owe your boss money! Would that make you angry? How about frustration? What if it kept happening over and over every day?
No one in their right mind would suggest that you need more punishment to motivate you to start speaking French. That would be absurd!!!
A reasonably person would help you to learn French in a way that worked for someone with your specific hearing impairment.
People who really know and understand developmental delays such as Asperger’s/HFA, Giftedness, ADHD, Attachment Issues, and Learning Disabilities and the associated anxiety, know that there will be challenges.
To be honest, there will be many challenges.
Unfortunately, there are many professionals (teachers, therapists, and psychiatrists) who have little to no scientific, fact-based knowledge of what these delays really are or how they affect the development and functioning of these children. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and sadly many parents are left confused and frustrated with the lack of progress or the inability of professionals to really help. In addition, extended family, friends and community have almost no real understanding other than old outdated ideas that look a lot like what people used to call “Mental Retardation”, which is in no way connected to any of the higher functioning developmental delays listed above. Many of these kids are actually highly intelligent and gifted, but may never have an opportunity to evolve in their full potential because the focus is… and here is where things get sticky… on teaching them to behave rather than teaching them to understand.
As a result, therapies that don’t work, unnecessarily over medicated kids, and schools that are not prepared or equipped to handle these kids lend themselves to disastrous outcomes, often backing these kids into a mental health corner. Depression and severe anxiety are common among these kids. The suicide rates for children with developmental issues is frighteningly high.
Often, uninformed people look at the parents of these unique children as if they have raised a defiant brat because they have little to no understanding of how these differently wired brains process information.
The question then becomes “How do you know if it’s brattiness or a developmental issue?”
Well, in a perfect world, a neuropsychiatric evaluation would give you definitive answers as to where the child struggles and what modalities could be put into place to improve the quality of life for all involved.
Unfortunately, many evaluations come back incomplete because these children are hard to test. There is no question that subjecting a child or young adult to a battery of tests that can last over 8 hours over a period of a day or two is going to produce serious emotional dysregulation in itself.
Adding to the challenge of getting a proper understanding of a child’s delays, many professionals do not understand what these diagnoses really mean. Some go so far as to say it’s made up or over diagnosed because they cannot see it, or worse, they think that these labels simply mean it’s a behavioral problem and feel they need to treat the behavior without addressing the issue of understanding and the resulting anxiety.
These invisible diagnoses are not fake, and there is plenty of scientific evidence for the fact that these brains work differently. It takes a lot of knowledge and testing to even get the diagnosis. There are strict standards for testing and it’s unlikely you would be given a diagnosis if you were just a defiant brat.
For someone to claim your child is not whatever you know him or her to be diagnosed with is just illogical.
Sure, it’s possible to get misdiagnosed with a developmental delay, but it is not common. Certainly not as common as the misdiagnosis of childhood mental illness. To have a friend, parent, or teacher question a diagnosis with so little understanding and information is ridiculous.
Think about it for a minute: if you were diagnosed with stage four cancer, but you looked fine, how inappropriate would it be for a person to look at you and say, “You just need to stick to a strict diet and exercise, there is nothing wrong with you"?
If your child or a child you know has been diagnosed with a developmental delay, then it’s important to know that the child has limits that are very different from other children and you have to trust that the parent is working hard to know when the child is struggling and when they are being a normal kid testing the limits.
It’s definitely not easy to know when a kid can’t and when he won’t, but if you don’t live with the kid, and you don’t have a full understanding of the diagnosis and all the brain functions involved in that diagnosis, then it would be a real shame to call that kid a defiant brat or label him with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) or PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) or blame the parents for bad or inconsistent parenting.
It’s not just kids who do better if they can, it’s parents too!
Follow The Thought Wrangler and Parenting The Extraordinary Blogs for relatable, real life stories, information and comfort on this journey by subscribing to receive the latest fresh from the keyboard!
Hi! I’m Yvette Marie a Thought Wrangler (an intellectual nomad looking for understanding and hope in all things). I created this blog space because I believe Flexibility and Flow in Neurodiversity is not only possible, but necessary for living a full life of health and wellness.