It’s simple. The kids are watching mom and dad. Parents are examples to their children on how to live, deal with crises, struggle through tough times and move forward. Mental health experts say parents need to let their children see them navigate through difficult times and teach their children how to appropriately respond and express their feelings.
“Just be the example for your kids,” GUIDE Inc., program director for suicide prevention Amira Abdulhafid said. “Just always check in. Be with your kids. Spend some time with your child. I know it’s a very busy society and you might be working two jobs, but always connect with your kids. Talk over dinner. Take them out for an activity. Have a mother-daughter date and get your nails done. Sometimes if you’re doing an activity they enjoy, they can open up more.”
Abdulhafid said it is important for parents to help their children realize it is O.K. to express their feelings and to ask for help. “Talk about your feelings,” Abdulhafid tells parents. “Talk about how it’s tough. Normalize talking about your feelings. De-stigmatize it. Start when they’re young. Tell them, ‘Hey, I’m angry about this.’ Have that discussion. They’ll grow up knowing it’s O.K. to ask for help.”
GUIDE was formed in 1986, as a joint effort between the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the Gwinnett County Board of Education with a mission to improve community conditions by utilizing collaborations, promoting positive youth development, delivering specialized training and resources and preventing substance use and abuse. Abdulhafid said free training is available from GUIDE to everyone who lives or works in Gwinnett, and is especially geared toward those who work with young people, such as teachers, coaches, foster parents and youth leaders. Training is done both virtually and in-person. It teaches adults how to help young people who might be having problems or issues, including those who might be considering suicide.
She said suicide is such a “taboo topic,” but she wants people to know it is not weak to ask for help and GUIDE offers training on how to offer that help to someone. Instructional programs include Youth Mental Health First Aid and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer), which is an approach to dealing with people who are perhaps suicidal. Abdulhafid said goals are to provide suicide prevention training and help adults who work with kids—usually ages 12-18—with training that goes in depth about mental disorders, such as eating disorders, self-harm and other topics.
“Adolescence is a changing time for them with mood swings, withdrawal from family, hanging out with friends more,” Abdulhafid said. “We help them learn what’s normal and what’s not.” Through suicide prevention, the QPR process begins with Q—the question. “We always encourage people to ask the question directly and it’s difficult to ask people directly,” Abdulhafid said. “...But you don’t want to beat around the bush. You want to know where the person is at. We teach different ways of asking the question and how to get around to the direct question of, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?” She said sometimes just asking the question offers relief and opens communication.
P is for persuade as one tries to persuade the person to stay alive. The training shows how to help the person understand there is a way out and to feel like someone cares. Next is the R—refer. Refer them for help, Abdulhafid said, adding it might be a school counselor, a doctor, teacher or trusted adult. “Research shows it takes one trusted adult to save a kid’s life,” she added. Abdulhafid said suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 in the U.S. For Gwinnett in 2017, there were nine suicides in that age group. A year later, the number rose to 16. In 2019, there were 20 deaths by suicide for ages 10-24 in the county and she said for the future, “We’re already seeing a rise.” Sixty percent of suicides are with firearms followed by hanging or suffocation with poisoning third.
Abdulhafid said GUIDE trains people to recognize the signs and offer help. “We don’t do treatment or intervention,” she said. “We refer them to their family doctor...If they’re in crisis or need mental health services, contact their doctor or the Georgia Crisis Access Line.” GCAL offers a free phone app where a person can chat online with somebody and she has heard of students going into the school bathroom and chatting with somebody through GCAL. It is open 24-7 and has the ability to screen and help callers, however, if one is worried somebody has the weapon or they’re going to do it, call 911, she said. The GCAL app is called Mygcal and its number is 1-800-715-4225. She said for those helping someone in such a situation, be caring and remember the power of “I” statements—“I want you to live. I want to help you.” And show them they are not alone. Tell them, “We will get through this.”