lies desperately need support and direction after a child attempts suicide. Depression, which leads to suicidal thinking, affects the entire family unit. To move past the tragedy, families must address the issues that the suicide caused, and continues to cause, in their lives. Chief among the issues is the family’s increased sense of responsibility for the child who attempted suicide. Worried about a repeat suicide attempt, family members, and parents in particular, feel that they have to watch their child constantly—in some cases, sleeping at the foot of the child’s bed every night to make sure he or she won’t attempt suicide.
“Parents feel a huge obligation to watch over their child,” Dr. Hoover says, “At first it may seem somewhat comforting to the child, but then the parents become so intrusive in the child’s life he or she thinks, ‘I can’t live like this anymore.”
Helping families reach that middle ground between protecting and smothering their children is a main goal for family therapy at the Menninger Adolescent Treatment Program, which treats adolescents age 12 to 17. Patients in the inpatient treatment program struggle with family, school and social difficulties because of depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric illness or substance abuse. Some patients also have attempted suicide once or multiple times.
Dr. Hoover recommends individual therapy as well as appropriate psychiatric medication for children who attempt suicide, as most are quite depressed and feel hopeless. Their parents and other children in the family may also benefit from individual therapy, especially if they found them after the attempt.
“Often siblings are just as stressed out as the parents because they find the brother after the overdose, or they are the ones in the background while Mom and Dad and the brother are having all of the conflict,” Dr. Hoover says. “So they have been traumatized by it and they need their own help.”
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