Parenting a suicidal teen

Last updated 06:01 20/03/2014
Fairfax NZ

DARK PLACE: What can a parent do if their teen is depressed or suicidal?

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For the past two years my beautiful daughter, who is now 18, has battled with mental illnesses including depression, self-harming and suicidal ideation.

At the beginning of our journey it was like being thrown into a whirlpool of despair and turmoil. I had a daughter who didn't want to live anymore.

My child was so unhappy and lost in such a dark place, that the only way out was to die.

Our world was tipped upside down. My beautiful girl, my child, this wonderful young woman had lost the will to live.

On a journey like this you cry a sea of tears, your life just doesn't make sense anymore.

You feel helpless and alone. You analyse your parenting, your past. What should I have done differently?

You desperately try to find the answers. But you know what? There are no answers, it just is.

There are no faults to blame.

Coping with a child who suffers from mental illness has taught me not to judge, not to ask why, not to doubt my abilities as a parent, not to look for blame or answers, but to work with what I do know and change what I need too.

The suicide attempts have stopped and it has been almost a year since the last one. She hasn't self-harmed for the past five months.

Self-harm and suicide are not the same thing. Just because someone self-harms doesn't necessarily mean they are suicidal.

Self-harm is a coping mechanism, it's a release.

My girl is scarred, or as she says, she is the tiger that earned her stripes, and the scars will be with her for life. It's no longer a reminder of where she was but how far she has come.

I don't believe self-harming is an attention-seeking act. No-one would deliberately hurt themselves to get attention and then cover them up in shame.

This was her life, her battle, which quickly became our battle.

How do I cope as a parent of a child like this and what advice would I give others on a journey such as ours?

Be there, listen with all your heart, don't judge, and don't give in to anger or frustration. Keep emotion out of the situation and don't ask why. The key is total unconditional love.

We are at the end of our journey and my beautiful girl is in recovery. She has worked with Mike King and she wants to be a youth advocate to help kids just like her.

I now also help others through their journey. I have created a closed group on Facebook called Tough2Love.

This group is solely for parents/caregivers who need and want support dealing with issues like youth self-harm, depression and suicidal ideation.

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It is a confidential and safe group. We have had many successes, great outcomes and people no longer travel this journey alone.

Self-harm does exist, so does support for parents going through such a challenging time.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - Provides 24-hour telephone counselling

Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 - Provides 24-hour telephone and text counselling services for young people

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - Provides 24-hour telephone counselling.

Tautoko: 0508 828 865 - provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whanau and friends.

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm - 6pm weekdays)

Skylight suicide support

In an emergency or you feel you or someone you know is at risk, please call 111

For information about suicide prevention, see

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