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A conversation I had with my 11 year old about suicide

Me: Does the name Kate Spade ring a bell to you?

Son: Yes, it sounds familiar.

Me: It’s the name of the shop outside our house, the one that sells all the quirky handbags.

Son: Oh yeah, I remember it now.

Me: Well, it’s named after the lady who founded it, and designs the bags that are sold in the shop.

Son: Oh, okay.

Me: Apparently she just died.

Son: What? How?

Me: She killed herself.

Son: What? Why would she do that?

Me: Lots of people do that.

Son: But, why didn’t she want to live anymore?

Me: I’m not exactly sure. I think she was depressed.

Son: What’s depressed?

Me: It’s a state of feeling a lot of guilt and sadness and worry for a long time, and you don’t see a way out of it.

Son: Maybe someone needs to encourage them?

Me: Really? What would you say to a depressed person?

Son: I’d say, let go of the past, because there’s nothing you can do about it. I’d say, learn to understand your feelings, so they’re not so frustrating. I’d say there’s always a way out of everything.

Me: Good advice. Unfortunately, people who are depressed usually don’t tell people that they are depressed, till they kill themselves. That’s when people find out.

Son: I can see why. If they told anyone, people would try to talk them out of it, or tell them that it’s no big deal.

Me: Did you know that children kill themselves too?

Son: Yes! Because of school.

Me: What? Why do you say that?

Son: Because I don’t like school, and I haven’t met anyone who likes school. Children feel sad and angry and betrayed about being made to go to school. Even if they said they did like school, they only said it because they didn’t want anyone to know how they really feel. They know people will tell them it’s no big deal.

Me: The world has lost two amazing talents this past week ….and I’m sure there are many more that we don’t know about.

I’m so glad I got to have this conversation with my son. Even at the young age of 11, he has figured out so much about how feelings can be overwhelming, and how people tend to hide them.

Though he is full of questions, and doesn’t yet fully understand how suicide works, and why people would do it, I like how his rather overly simplistic take on life (and about what to say to someone who is struggling with depression) makes so much sense compared to how most of us, in all our wisdom and maturity, would overthink it and get stuck in circles with our emotions.

As such, I’m going to take some time here to deconstruct the 3 pieces of advice that he said he would give to someone who is depressed.

His first piece of advice, telling us to move on, is such an important one, as most of us are often stuck in our pasts, our what-ifs and our should have’s. We wallow in guilt, and feel sorry for ourselves, and feel hopeless about everything. In his innocence, and his seemingly immature state, he seems to know that being stuck in the past isn’t helpful at all.

He has also figured out that so many people lack EQ (emotional intelligence), and how it can be ‘frustrating’ when we have so many feelings that we don’t understand or can’t figure out. And also that being in this state isn’t conducive for moving forward. It’s also interesting how he mentions that he understands why people don’t talk about their depression with others, because ‘they will say it’s no big deal’, implying that others around us, who also have low EQ, are unable to validate and acknowledge the feelings of others, and would rather hear us say things that they want to hear……things that imply that we are okay, rather than that we are struggling.

I also found it fascinating that he sees how people might use suicide as the only way out of their troubles. In his third piece of advice to a person who is depressed, he said that he would tell them that, ‘there’s always a way out of everything’, implying that there are always other options besides suicide. This, to me, is the key! Resilience…..or the ability to bounce back from challenges and defeat and failures, and to use past experiences to strengthen your own level of resilience.

I’ve been doing some serious work with both my boys to help them raise their EQ and resilience, and I’m so proud of how they have thrived, how happy they are, and how grounded they feel now, despite coming from a formerly broken family, and having lots of extended family members who are struggling with anxiety, as well as spending more than half a decade in school (well, at least now I know why they kept telling me they liked school, even though I could see them dripping with anxiety when they were there).

We can use this as a reminder that we need to start developing our children’s EQ, as much as (or more than), we are developing their IQ.

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