Back in April, I had the privilege of interviewing Heidi Swapp about her experience when her son committed suicide. I wrote a post about finding peace in the middle of adversity based on that interview here.
She was so generous with her time and her experiences, I realized I could help even more youth leaders by sharing some of her thoughts that might be helpful to us as we encounter situations with suicide in our work with the youth.
You won’t always see it coming
Heidi knew that her son was struggling with severe depression and anxiety, but never thought he would take his own life.
Maybe I just refused to believe it was that bad.
We’re not mental health professionals. We also don’t have crystal balls to tell us the future. We may or may not get the opportunity to see that someone is suffering so deeply that they might take their own life. We are simply human beings doing the best we can to help those around us. So, yes, pay attention. Watch for signs. Also realize that people hide things.
While we are on the subject of not not always seeing it when someone is contemplating suicide, it’s important to not blame ourselves, if someone close to us does. There’s a good chance we didn’t cause it.
Sometimes people are scared and uncomfortable talking about suicide
Heidi talks a lot about how her son, Cory, didn’t want help. He wanted to figure things out on his own. She also describes how “mortifying” it was to think about telling people once it happened. She didn’t want this to be her story. She wondered:
How do I tell this story? How do you spin this? What do you tell? Where do you start?
It’s important to talk about suicide openly
As Heidi thought about this, she realized that sharing was exactly what she needed to do. Heidi connected with a lot of people who responded in a loving way and also shared their own experiences with suicide. It helped her better understand her son, Cory.
By sharing I allowed people to help me…It’s the only way we can give people the opportunity.
She also emphasized the importance of asking for help if you are feeling suicidal.
There is no one right answer
She said that she wishes she had a list she could give people of what to do if their kid is struggling with anxiety and depression and it would make everything okay. There is no list.
There are solutions, but not always answers. A solution is something you can do until you find an answer or until you find peace. There might not be answers or your answer might not be my answer. When you’re open, when you share, you can find solutions. And that is a pathway to an answer… My solution is to share.
Be an “emotional first responder” not a “first reactor”
I think this was my favorite part of what she shared with me. It’s important for us to stay calm as parents and youth leaders when kids make mistakes or share something that’s really troubling them. We need to be careful to not resort to scare tactics. Think about what a first responder does when the come upon the scene of an emergency:
- Gets you out of harms way.
- Reassures you.
- Helps you calm down.
- Gets the situation under control.
- Takes care of your immediate needs.
She explains the difference between clarifying questions and condemning questions. Clarifying questions seek to understand. Condemning questions place blame and stir up bad feelings.
Condemning question: What were you thinking!?
Clarifying question: Can you tell me what happened?
Heidi shared some great thoughts about what it looks like to be an emotional “first responder” :
- Be reassuring
- Don’t try to figure everything out
- Get help from the right people
What I shared here is really the tip of the iceberg. If this is something you want to learn more about, I recommended visiting the site Hope4Utah, listening to this interview with a bishop who is a clinical psychologist or registering for a mental health first aid training.
Get My Resource Library
Subscribe to get my resource library and other youth leader tips!