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Overcoming a Parents Attempt at Suicide

Updated on September 12, 2012

Are you or someone you know suicidal?

If you or someone you know is in crisis or suicidal and needs someone to talk to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

The risks to children of parental suicide.

In the United States it is estimated that between 7,000 and 12,000 children lose a parent to suicide each year. No record is kept of attempted suicides.

It is extremely difficult to overcome a parents attempt at suicide and a parental suicide can have lasting effects on a child. According to a study led by Johns Hopkins Children's Center, "Losing a parent to suicide makes children more likely to die by suicide themselves and increases their risk of developing a range of major psychiatric disorders."

Ask any child of a parent who committed or tried to commit suicide and they will tell you it's a daily battle to overcome their parents legacy. Lead investigator, Holly C. Wilcox, Ph D, a psychiatric epidemiologist at Hopkins Children's Center says "Losing a parent to suicide at an early age emerges as a catalyst for suicide and psychiatric disorders. However, it's likely that developmental, environmental and genetic factors all come together, most likely simultaneously, to increase risk."

The day my mother attempted suicide.

I was nine when I found my mother overdosed on sleeping pills. Even at that young age my brain comprehended what my eyes were seeing. I don't know how I knew that an empty bottle of pills meant my mother could die but I did. Had I seen it on TV? Had I read about it somewhere? I honestly couldn't tell you. I ran to get my father and handed him the empty pill bottle. The look on his face reaffirmed what my nine year old brain had already registered, my mother could die. That was the day I turned 30. Obviously not in years but in responsibility. That is also the day I learned to become numb, to bury my feelings so far down they would never see the light of day. You see I was the oldest of 3, my brother a year younger, my sister just 2 years old. They clung to me as my father loaded my mother in the car and drove off. I reassured them everything would be OK and calmly walked to the phone. I called my mom's parents, my grandparents, when my grandmother answered the phone and I told her what had happened.

My mother didn't die but she never came back either. My father dropped her off at the nearest ER and told the doctors to call her parents he didn't want her back.

It's funny how 30+ years later I can remember exactly what she was wearing, what was going on in the house that day, but for the life of me I don't remember anything after making the call to my grandmother.

How did I keep my brother and sister entertained while our world shattered around us? How long were we left alone? When did my father come back? When did he tell us our mother never would?

You learn to live with a parental suicide, you learn to function "normally" and you learn coping skills for all the baggage that was dumped on you but you never really get over it. And that's OK. Everyone has baggage. Some people's baggage is just more broken down and torn than others. We have resources available to us now that were not available to our parents. There is no shame in needing or asking for professional help. And it is never too late to begin healing.

"Children are surprisingly resilient," Wilcox says. "A loving, supporting environment and careful attention to any emerging psychiatric symptoms can offset even such major stressor as a parent's suicide."

What makes suicide different from other deaths?

The main difference between deaths caused by suicide and other types of death is CHOICE.

Many children lose their parents at an early age from accidents, disease, military. No one chooses to have an accident or get cancer. They may chose to go in the military but it is with the intention of making a difference not being killed.

A parent who commits suicide makes the choice to die and leave their family and children behind. They chose the method. They chose the day. They chose the time. They chose the place. They make a conscious decision to die. THAT is how it is different.

Breaking the cycle with your own children.

My daughter will be nine soon. The same age I was when my mother tried to commit suicide. Lately I have been reliving all those moments when my childhood was normal and I didn't know what horror was right around the corner. I realized a few months back that I will now be forced to live it through my daughter’s eyes now. I am seeing my nine year old daughter going through her "normal" childhood about to turn nine and I realize I am now my mother and my daughter is now me, at least in the ever present video that keeps playing in my twisted mind.

I am hurt, I am angry, I am many emotions that I should have felt at the time but couldn't. How could she have done that to us? Who is supposed to take care of me while I am taking care of my siblings? Who is going to protect me as I protected them? Maybe I have to experience a normal childhood through my daughter’s eyes so that I can finally know what a normal childhood is. What it actually feels like to have close friends to confide in through my teen years, get excited about a prom, or a boy. Have the confidence to try out for school sports. What it feels like to know my biggest worry is which outfit I am going to wear. Most importantly how it feels to know that no matter how many mistakes I make my mother is there for me. Maybe, just maybe it will be my relationship with my own daughter that will finally heal me.

Resources to help you.

If you are having trouble dealing with a suicide there are people that can help you. Below are some great online resources.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: (AFSP) is the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.

Stop a Suicide Today: 70% of people who commit suicide tell someone about their plans, or give warning signs. Take the questionnaire at this website to find out if someone you know needs help.

National Institute of Mental Health: The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.

The Light Beyond: An amazing resource for those dealing with a suicide. Helping those left behind and guiding them toward healing.

Do you know someone who has committed suicide?

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    • profile image

      angelluvr 3 years ago

      I am interested in how to tell a child who wasn't present at the time that you attempted suicide. I grieve for those who have lost loved ones to suicide or had to watch their parents try to end their lives. How do you tell a 5 and 7 year old that mommy tried to kill herself

    • profile image

      Jessica B. 3 years ago

      Thankyou for sharing, im going through that battle as well. Before i turned 19, i had lost two family members, my memal and uncle in the same week from cancer, of course i was still emotional. A week later, my mom and her ex husband ( married at the time) got into a huge argument, to where he left her and myself at the house. I remember her going into the bedroom and closed the door behind her, locked herself in. 30 minutes, i heard a crash, so i busted through the door. That was when i caught her taking a whole bottle of pills, and chasing it down with alcohol. It was scary when all she kept screaming was let me die, i immediately called the ambulance, my grandma. It took a couple of times to get a hold of my dad, it was 3 in the morning. As i was waiting n the waiting room, a doctor came up to me and said if you would of called hours later, she would have been gone. That i saved her life.

      Right now im 21, so its been a couple of years, im still struggling with nightmares, i keep to myself, ive been in depression, but im better. My mom is doing better, but im the one left with the scar, she doesn't remember what happened, only i do.

    • Christine Miranda profile image
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      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      You're right JT. I think with suicide you are always wondering what you could of done, should you have seen the signs, why didn't they just reach out? I think there is a lot more guilt involved for the ones left behind. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    • profile image

      JThomp42 5 years ago

      This type of loss is the toughest to understand. Also the shock of it is devastating when they do pass.

    • Christine Miranda profile image
      Author

      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      Hi Princesz. It was extremely difficult writing this hub, knowing it would be there for all to see and to judge, but I really felt if it comforted just one person it was worth it. That is the point of this 7 hubs in 7 days on 7 different topics right? To challenge yourself to write outside your comfort zone. Thank you for reading it and taking the time to leave a comment.

    • His princesz profile image

      His princesz 5 years ago

      I'm sorry Christine for what you've been through. But it turns out for good and your experienced made you stronger and you are a comfort to many who experienced the same.

    • Christine Miranda profile image
      Author

      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      Thank you Nell Rose & Millionaire. I am grateful for where I am today. I wouldn't be here without having gone through that so that is the silver lining.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I am so sorry you had to go through that, but by sharing your story, you are an inspiration for all of us - to think through any thoughts of suicide we might have, and to appreciate what we have. When you said "And it is never too late to begin healing," I was touched and hopeful. I hope you do get help and are able to heal from all the pain.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi Christine thank you for sharing your story, I totally understand why you closed yourself off, and now have a great relationship and a normal one with your family, this must have been a nightmare and I commend you for sharing it, voted and shared, awesome.

    • Christine Miranda profile image
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      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      Thank you Teachable. I know my daughter's school discusses bullying several times during the school year. One thing I never, ever tolerated was my children picking on each other. The first time they did it was the last. My brother teased my sister mercilessly growing up. To me it was the worst sort of bullying. My kids argue like normal kids but they are never hurtful to each other. They have been taught compassion and empathy.

    • TeachableMoments profile image

      TeachableMoments 5 years ago from California

      Christine, what a powerful message you are sending out to the world. I can only imagine you at nine, finding your mother and watching your whole world mutate into something completely different. I watched my family say good-bye to a young 13 year old girl who couldn't take the bullying anymore and I watched another young girl being loaded into an ambulance after swallowing two bottles of pills. Fortunately, she made it. Still, things never were the same. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.