Social Question

Cupcake's avatar

How is a parent to deal with their teen's suicidal ideation?

Asked by Cupcake (13957points) March 12th, 2013

As a parent, I get conflicting messages. On one hand, it is perhaps developmentally and societally “normal” to think about death/suicide as a teenager. On the other hand, it is dangerous to not take such thoughts seriously.

In addition, teenagers are seeking more autonomy and privacy. Parents can’t expect their teens to be completely open about their experiences, thoughts and feelings.

My teenager has anxiety, ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is extremely rigid. He gets called gay and faggot daily in school for the last 5 years. He says he is not gay… which is neither here nor there. He has persistent thoughts about death and suicide. He has thought of many, many different ways to kill himself. He knows his family would be sad and especially thinks of me and his little brother. He won’t take his anxiety medicine because of his rigidity (he has to start on a certain day of the week, at a certain time, swallow the medicine with a certain drink, etc.). He’s not doing homework and is failing two classes. He has been pulled from extracurricular activities and may not be able to go on the band trip, which is extremely important to him (and he plays lead in a few songs that they would be judged on).

I just want to stop the world, but I can’t. I don’t know what to do. He comes home and sits in his room. He only occasionally talks to me, either when he’s doing well or doing very unwell.

Those are my specifics, anyway. How am I to cope, let alone help?

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41 Answers

KNOWITALL's avatar

Therapy asap!!! Suicide in teens is all too common, and if he’s being bullied, it’s not cool or funny.

Cupcake's avatar

He’s been in therapy for a year.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Cupcake Doesn’t sound like it’s been beneficial, has it? We had a Q here on fluther recently, and sometimes finding a therapist that works with you well, takes a few trials and errors.

tom_g's avatar

I was quite obsessed with suicide through much of high school. I don’t think it would’ve taken much for me to give it a shot – even a minor reduction in the anxiety associated with the potential pain involved might have made the difference. I have heard that many suicides occur during treatment just at the point when a medication is starting to function because there is less anxiety and more motivation, yet all of the pain is still there.
This question makes me quite nervous. It sounds like a new therapist is due – along with some close monitoring of the situation. Wish you and your son the best of luck.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Also, most areas have a suicide watch where a person can be held for evaluation for 72 hours. If you get too worried or he talks about it more, call them, or the regular police and they can put you in touch locally.

janbb's avatar

I wrote to you in a pm so I will not reiterate my family story. Would he like to be taken out of that school and placed somewhere else? I wouldn’t do it against his will but if it would be a positive. Have you addressed the bullying issue with the school? Have you spoken to the counselor at the school about how important the band trip is to his mental health?

It is possible that a residential school or hospitalization may be in order for some intensive therapy.

There are signs for when suicidal ideation is to be more seriously taken such as if specific methods are discussed.

This is one of the hardest things that a parent can face and I so sympathize with you. We got through it with luck, good therapy and a new compelling social activity but it is hard to know what to do. I remember my son hugging me and crying, “Am I going to be ok?” It is one of the most intense memories of my life.

Cupcake's avatar

I’m afraid that if he knew I was this concerned he would just stop talking to me about it.

I think his therapist is good. Their relationship is fabulous. Perhaps I need to meet with him privately to get some assurance that he is addressing the salient issues, without disclosing anything that he can’t disclose. I think that would help me a lot. Maybe I’ll take the first few minutes of tomorrow’s appointment.

My son trusts this therapist. I can’t switch him. Even if the guy isn’t being terribly helpful (but I think that he is), my son likes and trusts him and wants to see him.

janbb's avatar

@Cupcake I agree – if your son likes and trusts that therapist, that is key. Don’t change.

Cupcake's avatar

I appreciate your PM. I want to write you back but I’m at work and will not cry. Not now.

He goes to an arts school. It’s the arts that save him. The academics are hurtful and I’m sure that’s where the bullying happens. But the three music classes… that’s (other than family) his reason for living. He is a musician. That is why he gets up and goes to school in the morning. I can’t take him out of the music classes. I did assure him, however, that if he can’t handle the rest, I will take him out of the academic classes and insist on him (1) remaining in music and (2) receiving home instruction for the rest.

tom_g's avatar

@Cupcake: “I did assure him, however, that if he can’t handle the rest, I will take him out of the academic classes and insist on him (1) remaining in music and (2) receiving home instruction for the rest.”

This sounds reasonable.
Has the school been notified that this bullying is going on? I know that in many schools, there is zero tolerance for such behavior.

janbb's avatar

@Cupcake That could be a great solution! It was music that saved my son too. I love the idea of home tutoring for the academics and school for the music. Perhaps it’s time to enact that plan; then he won’t feel so trapped.

I wish I could give you a proper hug!

Cupcake's avatar

@tom_g My son has forbidden me from mentioning the bullying to anyone. I don’t know what to do with that.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Cupcake If it comes to breaking a confidence and saving his life, the answer is clear. Even if just to the therapist. The school would be forced to take action, I’m sure.

hearkat's avatar

Damnit! I’m on lunch break and I just lost everything I had typed. Sorry. I’ll try to post after work.

tom_g's avatar

@Cupcake: ”@tom_g My son has forbidden me from mentioning the bullying to anyone. I don’t know what to do with that.”

Hmmm…that’s tricky. The problem is that the bullying has to stop – or he has to be removed from the situation. Is he concerned that the school wouldn’t do anything about the bullying, yet he’d have to deal with the repercussions of the reporting? If you were to do research and find out exactly how bullying reports are handled, it might be something that could help you make a decision. Say, for example, the school has zero tolerance for such behavior, and it ends up being effectively stopped in the school, your son might be ok with dealing with this. If it turns out that bullies get a slap on the wrist and nothing ever happens in most cases, your son might have a case for you not getting involved.
I live in one of those upper-middle class towns where everyone treats their kids’ high school experience as a stepping stone to an ivy league school. Reports of hazing or bullying are complete game changers. The school comes down very hard (from what I understand), and the police are brought in. The parents of the offenders end up having to pull their kids from the school in some cases in order to “save face” and make sure their kid gets into Harvard.

Anyway, just a thought.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g Either way if she tells the school, he’s labelled a ‘snitch’ and treated like a pariah. Here he would be anyway, and probably get his butt kicked as well, by someone who was not named the ‘bully.”

Added to the fact he already is treated poorly, I’d just pull him out of school and try homeschooling, special schooling or move to a different school.

tom_g's avatar

^^ I agree, actually. I’d probably pull my kid out of the school and move to a different town/state.

Wow, though. This stuff gets my blood boiling. I would seriously consider other, less-than-honorable ways of dealing with these bullies. I wish I was kidding.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g Um well yeah OF COURSE but I don’t think he’s telling her ‘who’...which makes it difficult. I’d probably be stalking with binoculars on his way to school to see who I needed to knock out…lol

Cupcake's avatar

I’m certain that some of the bullying happens in the classroom. I am livid that teachers allow kids to be called names. And then they call me and tell me that I need to make sure he does his homework. First of all, how do I make a 16 year old do his homework? Second of all, maybe if he wasn’t teased in your class he wouldn’t be a nervous, depressed, bundle of mess when he came home. Maybe he wouldn’t sit in his room and think about how he could die without his mom and little brother grieving too much. He told me that he keeps his room clean so that if he did ever kill himself it wouldn’t be a mess. He knows that some parents keep the room like a shrine, and he wouldn’t want me to keep his mess the way he left it. So he cleans his room. How the fuck am I supposed to sleep when my kid tells me he cleans his room so that I don’t keep it a mess if he kills himself.

He’s not being physically bullied. He’s having his sexuality questioned or made fun of daily. For over five years.

His best friend’s mother, immediately upon meeting him, asked him if he is gay. A member of our religious community came up to me on Sunday and asked me if he is gay. It’s all the time. Everywhere. Every day.

And, besides… who gives a shit? Who cares? So he wears skinny jeans and brightly colored socks. So he styles his hair. So he does his own thing. He’s fancy. He’s a musician. He’s not out. Not to me. Probably not to himself. Maybe he will be someday. Maybe not. Why does everyone feel the need to ask. It really, really pisses me off.

From a school administration perspective, is a student asking another student “are you gay” really considered bullying? Doubtful.

To reiterate… I cannot pull him out of the school. I cannot homeschool.

I will talk to his psychologist (not the school one, the therapy one) tomorrow before his appointment and discuss school options and make sure that we have a plan for him to be safe.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Sounds like you need to move him to a more progressive community. What state are you in again if I may ask? Just curious since it sounds a little overly religious like my area.

Cupcake's avatar

@KNOWITALL Not at all. We are in upstate NY. He goes to an arts school. Several guys are openly gay. That’s part of why this whole thing is so odd to me.

tom_g's avatar

@Cupcake: “He told me that he keeps his room clean so that if he did ever kill himself it wouldn’t be a mess”

I know you know this, but I urge you to call the therapist right now – as in now. I mentioned my “obsession” to someone – but only after I had purchased some rope, and had a moment of holy shit, I could actually do this. Make sure you tell the therapist what he said. Don’t downplay it.

I don’t have any experience on the parent side of this, so I don’t know what I’m talking about. I hope you find a way to get him through this. He needs to know that all of this pain – and possible confusion – will pass in a very short time. But in the meantime, I would imagine that you might have to prepare yourself to be the “bad guy” in order to save his life.

Cupcake's avatar

@tom_g Thank you for your logical urgency. It is more reassuring than anxiety-provoking. I have been paralyzed… frozen for the last couple of weeks. I need to move more. Now. Thank you.

janbb's avatar

You might want to look at the many good online resources for anti-bullying and gay bashing support (even if he isn’t gay. ) “The Trevor project” and “It gets better” are two wonderful support sites.

Here’s a link to the Web site I did at my library for LBGT information. In it, web resources are listed. Again, not saying he is or isn’t gay but there is a lot of bullying of this type out there. You might also see if the college you attend (still?) or another local college has an anti-bullying Ally group on campus that you can talk to. There are a lot of resources out there to support you.

http://libguides.brookdalecc.edu/content.php?pid=207136

Cupcake's avatar

Thanks @janbb. I found the trevor project website helpful. I am now thinking about how his impulsiveness (ADHD) might make his suicidal thoughts more concerning.

janbb's avatar

And I also agree that calling the therapist ASAP is a great idea. You need help with this.

Judi's avatar

I haven’t read all the other answers but you need to talk to a school counselor. (I’m just addressing the band trip thing.) I’m sure others are offering great advice on the depression end.
According to the IDEA act, your son is entitled to a free and APPROPRIATE education. If his disabilities are keeping him from getting an appropriate education you are entitled to some modifications.
When my son was in school there was a program called Opportunity which was often used to segregate disorderly kids but was perfect for my son. He did his work independently in modules and a teacher was available if he had questions.
When we started him on the program as an accommodation the staff tried to tell us that he would not be allowed to have contact with the regular students. This mama bear let them know in a very firm way that not only would he still have social interactions with other students but he would still get to go to chorus and theater classes since those were the only classes he was excelling in in the regular program. I reminded them that this was an accommodation not a punishment.
No child needs to be bullied, and every child deserves an advocate. You need to make a plan that works with his personality and accommodates his disabilities. The law is on your side.

captainsmooth's avatar

I am sorry for your son’s pain, and yours as well.

As @Judi wrote, your son’s diagnosis’s, the ADHD and OCD, effect his school work. He is eligible for a 504 accommodation, which should help with both the failing classes and being pulled from the extracurriculur activities that are very important to his self-esteem. His school should have a 504 coordinator, usually a guidance counselor or a school social worker. At the very least there is a 504 coordinator in your district. You need to speak to that person.

The bullying is a different situation. Every school district has an anti-bullying policy, there are procedures that are in place to determine if what is happening is bullying or not, and then what steps are taken after that determination. But if he doesn’t speak up and you don’t (understandably) want to intervene on his behalf, the school isn’t going to do much.

Talking to the 504 coordinator about his ADHD and OCD, how it is impacting him academically, might lead to discussing the bullying.

Carinaponcho's avatar

With the school shoving bully prevention down our throats, stories of kids committing suicide has become the social norm. If I were in his situation, I think the best thing would be to home school and confront the parents of the kids who are calling him names. He may just grow out of it. Most importantly, let him know that he is loved.

janbb's avatar

@Carinaponcho I think it’s the other way around. I think anti-bullying programs have arisen because kids are committing suicide.

Carinaponcho's avatar

@janbb Yes I believe that was the inital reason why they were created but they are doing more harm than good.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

First, thank you for bringing this to us here on Fluther. Thank you for trusting us with this information. You show great courage and great love for your son by putting this to a larger audience for help.

Second, let me qualify myself. I am gay. I knew I was gay by the age of 9, but due to bullying at school and religious indoctrination, I suppressed it until I was 35. I was horribly abused growing up by other children and later adolescents calling me names and physically pushing and shoving me. Like you son, I also happen to have a mental illness. In my case, it’s bipolar disorder. Furthermore, I have attempted suicide. I know what it’s like to be in the black pit of despair where no light shines.

@tom_g has a great suggestion that you call the therapist now to discuss the things you’re discussing here. I would go one step further and get an appointment with a psychiatrist quickly. When you call the psychiatrist for the appointment mention the suicidal ideation to speed things along.

No matter how painful, I suggest you talk to your school’s principal about the bullying. It has to stop. I would skip the school counselor and go straight to the top. This will alert the right people that you mean business, and the principal better than anyone there should be able to “smell” a lawsuit coming. I’m not saying that would be necessary or that you would even go that route. I’m suggesting a way that I view as efficacious.

I, of course, don’t know the anti-bullying rules where you are, but here, they are severe. Any bullying by one student to another whether on or off school grounds, including cyber-bullying, is cause for action against the perpetrators. You might call your school without revealing any of the particulars and simply ask about the rules. Perhaps you could talk to the therapist about ways to approach your son demonstrating to him that as the victim, he has the right to be safe at school and among his peers.

I can speak from personal experience that when I attempted suicide, I got my affairs in order. I tidied up my apartment. I laid out instructions about whom to contact. I did numerous things. The story that your son is keeping his room clean so as not to trouble you should he kill himself is extremely disturbing to me.

I was saved at my darkest hour by a friend. There was someone looking out for me and concerned for me. It gave me the strength to call my sister who drove me to the ER where I was admitted to the psychiatric ward. There I was given rest and medication to help with my illness. I was treated with respect, and I began the journey to recovery.

Your courage to come here and open your situation to us is tremendous. I applaud you and wish you all the best on the long road ahead.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Your son’s therapist should be the best source for advice for what you can do to support the work they are doing and to respond appropriately to your son’s reports of suicidal ideation. Get and keep close at hand the number for the Suicide Prevention Hot-line in your area.

RandomGirl's avatar

Does he have any good friends, that really understand him? I’m 16, and I mildly understand his pain. No, I’m not ADHD or suicidal, but I know what it’s like to feel like a fish out of water. I’ve been a social outcast of sorts for all my teenage years. I know that pain. The only thing that keeps me going with life as it is, is my good friends. They understand how it feels to be misunderstood. They know why I do what I do. They let me be myself.

Also… I know I’ll probably get some grief for saying this, but I feel like it should be said.
You say he says he’s not gay, but everyone thinks he is. Part of the problem might be the uncertainty of not being sure. He might feel like he “should” be gay because of his personality, but his physical attraction doesn’t match up. Having your identity questioned like that can be hard, especially in your teenage years when you’re trying to decide who you are and whom you want to become. I have a feeling you’ve probably already thought of this, but definitely make sure he knows it’s alright with you to be whoever he wants to be. Make sure he knows there are people like him out there, either way. But, like I said, I’m sure you’ve already thought of that and acted on it.

I’m curious: Has he ever dated, or even had a crush on a girl? If so, and if you’re comfortable with it, maybe you could bring up the idea of taking a girl out! Certainly, if he doesn’t like the idea, don’t push it, but having a girlfriend might help him.

I hope and pray he finds a good way to cope. I can’t imagine having a child going through this – it must be terrible.

Bellatrix's avatar

I haven’t read all the answers but this disturbed me. The academics are hurtful and I’m sure that’s where the bullying happens. I did read your son doesn’t want you to speak to anyone about the bullying but I think you have to. The school has to know that their teachers are either behaving in this way or condoning bullying. They have a duty of care to your son and no young person should have to attend a class where bullying is accepted and even possibly promoted. I would speak to the head teacher and raise your concerns. I would even put it in writing. They can only be held responsible if they are aware so make sure they are and that they do something to resolve this problem or they should bear responsibility for their lack of action.

I hope your son is okay. I would also imagine if this is the culture at the school, he is not alone in feeling bullied.

hearkat's avatar

I have read through the post and comments now, and I am also concerned about his comment regarding keeping his room clean. Talk to his therapist ASAP.

My son attempted to overdose a few weeks before his 18th birthday, and that timing was fortunate, because had he been an “adult”, the hospital would have had to follow state regulations, and I’d have had no say in the treatment. So while you can still have legal rights, it is important for you to be proactive.

Tell your son that you love him too much to lose him, and that you want the bullying addressed so that he might feel better about himself and school, and so it won’t happen to other kids, either. Suggest that you talk to the administration (with or without him), and that they try to catch the bullies “in the act” so that he won’t be viewed as a tattle-tale.

Are there any other schools for the performing arts in your area that he might go to? I don’t see how you could home-school while having him still involved in the music classes. Even having him moved to different classes might draw additional unwanted attention from the bullies.

As for the comments and questions about his sexuality, Hawaii_Jake posted a question about dealing with people’s inappropriate comments a while back, and based on our conversation there, I’d suggest you reply to those who ask if he’s gay with, “What difference does it make?” and if they push it further, you could simply say that like most teens, he’s still figuring himself out, and that aspect of his personality has yet to be clearly defined.

I hope there is a positive outcome for your son. <3

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

I am sorry, I am getting to this question a little late.

Please know that of the things your son is telling you are a cry for help. He may not even know it yet himself but him telling you about his room being clean is just that. I have found, (being a bipolar person who has tried to commit suicide) that there are steps so to speak. I dont want that to sound funny.

The first step in my own experience I would just dream of it.
And then I would shout about it when I was angry to family members and friends who usually did’nt really do much but say “no that’s not acceptable.”
So then I would start planning, and trying to rack up my nerve, that took a long time, along the way I would give hints of my plans, to which no one would really contest. So I would start researching the way, in my case it was pills, and found one pill suitable. I got these pills by coaxing my doctor I needed them for my bipolar. I decided to test drive the pills during a routine argument, you have to understand I was committed to committing suicide. My husband found me and saved my life, I knew he would he was a paramedic. I was sent to the psychiatric ward and put under lockdown. When I got back I still hadn’t received sufficient help so I reordered my pills got in my car and found a quiet spot where no one would find me and I took my bible out so I could read my own last rights and without making this story any longer and drawn out all I can say is God saved me that night.

I am not telling this story for a pity party, or any religious reason, or to make you feel bad, in fact I hope it is the opposite. I hope you see that there are some people who cry out for help and fortunatley your son is one of them. You love your son deeply, I can just tell by your writings. I hope we have helped you and that things get better. Just know that as long as your son is alive and you are fighting for his life, it will make him feel like he is that much more worth fighting for. You tell him you are doing it to save his life, because you think he is worth it and ask him to join fluther because WE also think he is worth it ;)

augustlan's avatar

Oh, my heart breaks at his pain and yours, @Cupcake. I wish I could give you both a big hug, and that I could talk to him in person. It’s so hard to understand, when you’re in the depths of that black hole, that things will ever get better. But they do. Especially when the time frame of getting through high school is so short. The whole world changes as soon as you’re out!

You’ve already gotten some great advice, but I have one more thing for you to consider. Since he’s 16, is he able to quit traditional school (with your permission) and take the GED? Getting him out of that toxic environment might help, a lot. If you can afford it, he could continue music lessons with a private teacher (or in a group setting), start taking classes at community college, and/or get a part-time job. Of course, he will still have his issues to deal with, but the huge change that comes from leaving high school and starting an ‘adult’ life (while still under your care) may make them easier to get a handle on.

Pandora's avatar

When my son was being bullied in high school, I went directly to the principle and talked to him about the bully and the class it was happening in. He knew the who the student was as soon as I mentioned what class it was. Apparently this student had a track record. Needless to say my son was not happy but I did tell him ahead of time. I told him it was my job as a parent to see to his well being. I asked him to never keep me in the dark about problems he has because of all the people in the world I would always do my best to make the right choices for him.

The next day he was happy. The student apologized to him and left him alone after that.
Apparently this student was on probation and if one more complaint was issued, then she would be kicked out.

You may also try putting him in some martial arts class. Maybe some self defense classes will boost his self esteem and not make him feel powerless.
True he make hurt another student down the road for pay back but more than likely, knowing that he could defend himself if he has too may be enough. Or at the very least it may build his self esteem enough that hurtful words will have no power.

I did use to point out to my son, that words only have the power you give them and that people who use hurtful words have little lives. After all. If they were all so great they wouldn’t even take the time to belittle him. They would actually be living their lives and minding their own business.

Cupcake's avatar

Thanks everyone. @RandomGirl He has “dated” (whatever that means when you’re in middle school) but not for a couple of years. His therapist recently started helping him with asking out girls/getting a girlfriend. It hasn’t gone anywhere yet. I don’t know why you would get grief for your comments – they were very helpful.

In terms of talking to the school, I am not sure. I’ll certainly be talking to his therapist about it today. If his suicidal ideation is related to his feeling a loss of control over his life, would it be appropriate for me to take even more control away from him? Also, I feel very strongly that this will not be dealt with by the school. The majority of comments are things like “are you gay? aren’t you gay? why do you wear stripes all the time? you must be gay.” I think the school would address calling him a faggot… but he won’t say where/when that happens. The other comments/questions happen throughout the day… often by strangers. He couldn’t even identify all of them, or most of them, if he wanted. It’s an entire culture that would need to be addressed. It certainly won’t happen within the next year.

On the other hand, I want him to feel comforted and protected by me. I want to be his fearless advocate.

At this point, he still goes to school every day. Of course, he starts every day with 2–3 music classes, so that makes sense to me. We will find out in a week how this marking period went. I fervently hope that he didn’t fail anything.

Pandora's avatar

He could try deflecting their questions with humor.
How many times do I have to tell you, that you are not my type? Would work for both boys and girls.

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