Editor’s note • This column discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.
Dear Ann Cannon • As the parent of a teen who suffers from mental illness, I struggle daily. My child is in the care of multiple people to help her manage this struggle and still we fail at times. It is a daily struggle of hoping the next morning she is still breathing. There are a multitude of feelings I have to deal with daily.
Recently, we had a very close friend who was part of our family complete a suicide attempt. That took another toll on my daughter. How do we address the sensitivity of this issue? At his funeral, words of peace and comfort were expressed. I am concerned for my child who desperately wants that peace and that she will hear those words of comfort and seek death more quickly or often. How can I let her know that, yes, there is peace in death but we need her here now? How can I be sensitive of the need for others to grieve and still look after my child’s well-being?
— A Mother
Dear Mother • I won’t lie. Reading this left a lump in my throat. I couldn’t help but notice how many times you use the word “struggle” in your letter. It is so, so hard to watch a beloved child do just that, right?
Because the issues you’re grappling with are deadly serious, I feel the need to remind readers that I’m not a therapist. I do have some observations, however, which I list here in no particular order.
1. Kudos to you for getting your daughter the help and treatment she needs. I only wish that more families had access to affordable, sustainable mental health care. Mental illness is real and widespread. Most of us have had our lives affected by it in one way or another.
2. Encourage your daughter to share her concerns — all of them, including the idea that there’s peace in death — with her health care providers.
3. I hope that while you’re taking care of your daughter, you’re also finding ways to take care of yourself. I’ve watched caretakers ruin their own mental and physical health while taking care of the people they love. Don’t let that happen to you. Remind yourself that you yourself have to be in a good place to help your daughter. Part of taking care of yourself may also involve having a therapist of your own, if that’s a possibility — and I know it isn’t always. But be sure to maintain friendships that nourish you. Get enough rest and exercise. Spend some time outdoors.
4. Do continue to let your daughter know that you absolutely want and need her here.
5. As hard as this is, accept the fact that in the end, we only have so much control over the children and others we love. Even when you’re bone-weary and desperate, you’re doing the best you can do, because you are. Remember that.
Finally, you raise an interesting issue. Sometimes in a well-intentioned effort to make pain go away or to make everything all better, we humans say things that aren’t particularly helpful. It could be that the best thing to say is a simple, “I love you and yours, and I’m so sorry.” Then make it a point to be there for a friend both in the present moment and down the road.
Thank you for writing and for helping us consider better ways to express our sympathy in the face of another person’s tragedy.
Meanwhile, here’s a response to the individual who wrote about resenting the treats left by a former ward member:
“For the former LDS woman who’s accepting Xmas treats from a long-time friend. I think she should suck it up. It’s not about her. It’s about the friend who is reaching out in a way appropriate to that friend. If it were me, I would graciously thank her & enjoy the treats & feel honored that the person thought about her.”