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Families Need Help to Deal With Aftermath of Suicide Attempts

When a child attempts suicide, these emotions hit families like a Mack truck. Some family members bury their feelings deep inside and refuse to accept the stark reality. //Others spring into action and vow never again to let the child who attempted suicide of their sight. But no matter how a family deals with the aftermath of a suicide, they are forever changed by it.

“The repercussions from a suicide attempt can go on for years,” says Daniel Hoover, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Adolescent Treatment Program at The Menninger Clinic and associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine Houston.

Guilt and shame over a suicide attempt prevent many families from getting the help they need to work through the crisis, Dr. Hoover continues. An estimated 30 percent of families of children who attempt suicide seek family therapy, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 1997, and about 77 percent of families referred to treatment after an adolescent attempts suicide drop out according to a 1993 Journal study.

Many families don’t pursue treatment because they deny or minimize their child’s suicide attempt. Teenagers who attempt suicide may also not admit they tried to kill themselves.

“Even when you see a young person in the emergency room right after he or she completed an attempt, very quickly the denial kicks in,” Dr. Hoover says. “She may say, ‘I never meant it,’ or ‘it was an accident,’ or denying she even made an attempt. Families do the same thing because of the intensity of the suicide issue.”

Complicating matters, teenagers may attempt suicide while in treatment for mental illness, such as depression or substance abuse. Families are reluctant to put their trust in the mental health system again--feeling it failed them.

That’s unfortunate, Dr. Hoover says, because fami
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