Hopefully, I’ve at least convinced you (see Part 1) to discuss these hard topics with your teen. Now what? What should you say? Before you change your mind or flippantly speak your mind, make sure to keep your audience and your main purpose in view: Your child is at risk for the same kind of tragic death, both by being human and by being a teen. This sobering reality should help you carefully shape your end of the conversation. Beyond that, here are a few principles to consider.
You Don’t Have All the Answers
Not only did you (probably) not know Robin Williams personally, but you don’t know exactly what goes on with depression — or in the mind of a person who takes his or her own life. No one fully does.
Sure, we know there can be physical issues that can cause feelings of depression. As Bible-believers, we also know that our hearts are deceptive, and focusing on self and difficult circumstances can cause dark and hopeless thoughts and feelings. Anecdotally, we all realize that some people have a greater natural propensity toward melancholy moods. Where one contributing factor ends and another begins is something none of us can measure.
There Is Always Another Option
Whether or not you think you agree with other points of his hotly debated blog post, these words from Matt Walsh are certainly worth considering, in regards your teen: “To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless.”
This is especially significant if your teen has already been labeled (or has self-identified) as being “depressed” or “suicidal.” Make sure your teen knows that there is always hope, always an alternative. People in severe depression often feel as if there is no other option, so it’s incredibly important to remind them in times of clear thinking that there is always another choice.
Struggles and Temptations Shouldn’t Cause Shame
There’s a careful balance to try to maintain between encouraging right thinking and offering encouragement and accepting people — especially our own kids — problems and all. We need to especially make sure our kids know they can be open about all kinds of struggles and temptations — both to us and to others.
Requiring people to keep these kinds of struggles secret can be devastating and should not be allowed to be part of the culture of our families or churches. Without such openness, a person (especially a person who feels isolated by depression) can easily think they’re the only one who has felt or thought in such a way, and they can easily think there’s no hope (1 Corinthians 10:13).
There’s certainly more to dealing with depression and suicidal tendencies than having conversations, but it’s a good place to start.