It happened on a Thursday night, three weeks ago. It’s not unusual when you live with a special needs child to not have life be as smooth and calm as you would like it to be. On this particular evening, my 13 -year-old daughter was raging out of control. I quickly reviewed in my mind the happenings of the week, thinking of something that may have happened that caused her to not be able to control her anger. She is usually fairly predictable; there’s lots of attitude, snappy remarks and dirty locks. After all she is a teenager. However, she has emotional issues and attachment disorder, so her behaviors are usually magnified ten-fold.
On this particular evening, however, words came out of her mouth that caused my ears to really perk up and listen. She announced that she was going to end her life. She said that life was no longer worth living, she hated being in our family, she hated me, and she hated living in our house. Wow. Goosebumps down my back and a slight feeling of panic. We adopted my daughter when she was five from Kazakhstan. The first five years of her life were horrific and things happened to her that I can’t even imagine could happen to anyone. She has lots of issues but never has she been so vehement about wanting to just end it all.
I am going to flashback for a moment to about 10 years ago when I read an article about a 13 -year-old boy who told his parents he wanted to kill himself. He happened to be a well-adjusted young man, or so his parents thought. They took his threats with a grain of salt and didn’t do anything about it or react or ask any questions. The next morning they discovered he had hung himself in their garage. Obviously they were dumbfounded and could not figure out why this seemingly well-adjusted boy did not share with them that he was that unhappy. Tragic.
That story has stuck with me all of these years. So when my daughter said she wanted to end it all, my husband and I took her seriously. We tried to calm her down, after she punched me and started to throw things; she was in a blind rage. Eventually, she cried herself to sleep and we were up all night just watching her. We kept her home from school the next day and cancelled her social plans for the weekend. We would not let her out of our sight.
The reason I am sharing this story is to educate parents that there are steps you can and should take if your child threatens suicide. The best number to call is CIRT (Children’s Intensive Response Team) 1-866-431-2478. (Ventura County)
CIRT is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. CIRT delivers quick and accessible service to families by providing specialized crisis intervention and in-home support and linkage to county mental health services or other appropriate assistance. Services may be provided over the phone as the initial emergency call is taken (i.e. de-escalation and linkage) or in person (i.e. emergency mental health assessments, proactive safety planning and safety monitoring, collaborative introduction meetings). If necessary, CIRT has the authority to hospitalize a child or youth, involuntarily for up to 72-hours.
I did call CIRT, spoke to a counselor that evening and made an appointment for them to come out the next day to do an in-home assessment. A psychologist and Case Manager talked to my daughter and me and they gave us recommendations for a new psychiatrist. The nice thing about CIRT is we have their services for four weeks, in-home, to be sure everything is OK.
As it turned out my daughter did not have a “plan”, which is something one needs to ask a child when they say, ” I want to end my life.” If my daughter would’ve said I am going to run to the freeway and jump off the bridge that is the plan. If she were to say, “I’m going to go to the bank and grab the security guard’s gun and shoot myself”, that is a plan. If she were to say, “I’m going to swallow a whole bottle of aspirin”, that is the plan. Even though my daughter said none of the above, we decided we needed to get some help quickly. And, the article that I have read 10 years previously made such an impact on me that I couldn’t let her behavior go without being proactive.
It’s been three weeks and things have calmed down. Appointments made to interview new doctors, a behaviorist hired to work with us in our home, and a constant underlying fear that one day she may make good on her threat. Mental illness is difficult to understand. If you have a child in your life who has emotional deficits, pay attention and reach out for help, don’t try to handle it alone. There are lots of resources in most communities to assist you.
Laurie is the mom of two adopted children, ages 13 and 16. She is the owner of Bright Apple Tutoring Service, a tutor referral service based in Ventura County,CA as well as two other national businesses that teach budding entrepreneurs how to begin a tutoring service in their community. She is an avid social networker, blogger, and active in several in-person networking groups. In her spare time, she runs, reads, volunteers in the community and supports special needs parents.