Caring for yourself
Once you know your child is safe in a professional setting, go ahead and fall apart away from his or her view. Weep, wail, scream, but do not try to keep this inside because of shame, stoicism, or other reasons. You’ll eventually get physically sick if you do, and your child(ren) needs you. Remember, parents, you just safely led your child through a nightmare.
Sleep. Take off work if you can. If you have family leave, use it all at once or intermittently in order to set your mind at rest so that you won’t lose your job. If you find yourself barely able to function, abide noise or light, that’s normal.
Be kind and gentle toward yourself and your spouse, and get people praying for all of you. I’d recommend a good Christian counselor for yourself when you have capacity. God is with you. He is near to your broken heart and your child’s whether you can feel him or not.
Find people who love you and will just listen, not offer suggestions or try to fix things. Dealing with your child’s thoughts of suicide can be very difficult, but is important. You need those who will mourn with you as you mourn and help you bear your burdens. It’s important that you draw healthy boundaries to protect yourself and your child. You don’t have the capacity to take care of your friends or family who are emotional about what has happened. This might feel mean or rude or different from your usual family dynamics, but you need to prioritize this, or it will crush you, rendering you unable to care for your child in the time of her greatest need.
Please don’t be either reflexively anti-medicine or anti-therapy. There’s always a spiritual component to our lives, so embrace the spiritual but not to the exclusion of the other aspects. And please don’t put this burden and yoke on your suffering child, expecting them to simply pray harder and trust God. If you’ve done that already, just gently and with great love tell them you were wrong and that God loves them and will never leave them alone in their pain.
Don’t be thrown off that the professionals you deal with don’t seem too worked up about your child’s thoughts of suicide. This is their job. Cooperate kindly with them. They have hard jobs. Continue to be your child’s advocate. Be open and willing to hear the counsel the professionals want to give you. Just because you’re a mature Christian who walks with Jesus doesn’t mean you have all the answers for this. Be humble and grateful to them for the work they do.
Once your child has stabilized, make sure to access the step-down care that he or she will need. This may be therapy and psychiatry through either day treatment or outpatient care. Find what’s available, and ask questions. And as much as you’d like to forget this whole episode as a bad dream and get back to life as you know it, don’t minimize it or try to sweep everything under the rug.
Communicate openly with your child and emphasize how smart and brave it is to continue to get the help he needs. Resist the urge to “fix” your child with easy answers. Keep nurturing and loving him. If your child tells you hard things, be unfazed, assuring him that there’s nothing that can push you or God away from him.
This could be a one-time event, or it could be a feature of your child’s serious mental illness. Whatever it is, walk with the One who loves you all, and keep getting professional help. If the help you have isn’t working, keep trying. You may need supernatural endurance and perseverance. I truly can’t count the number of doctors and medicines we’ve gone through in our nearly 10 years of dealing with these issues. It’s exhausting. Take one day at a time, and don’t borrow tomorrow’s troubles. Keep it simple. Cherish beauty. Rest in Jesus. Rest in bed. Be outside. Walk. Consider dogs and horses (God does some beautiful therapy for us through them.)
Don’t be surprised if you fall apart physically, emotionally, or relationally when the crisis passes. It’s typical. Be patient with yourself and your family, and get the help you need. This is imperative for survival. Keep taking care of yourself so you can take care of your children.
And be proud that, with God’s grace and wisdom, you just navigated one of life’s toughest situations. You’ll have much to offer the next parent who needs your help walking through this crisis dealing with thoughts of suicide. God never wastes our pain. He won’t waste what you’ve just been through, and he will never leave or forsake you.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7: 1-800-273-8255
This article originally appeared here.