Thursday, July 16, 2020

Can You Hear Silent Cries?

"Wonderful things of folks are said
When they have passed away
Roses adorn the narrow bed
Over the sleeping clay
Give me the roses while I live
Trying to cheer me on
Useless the flowers that we give
After the soul is gone"
                                     A.P. Carter, "Give Me The Roses While I Live"

Have you ever heard a kid talk about suicide? Suicides are at an all time high among young people. By the time a teenager starts to verbalize the thought the risk of carrying out that thought is quite high. A much higher risk than I ever want to take.

When that happens one must know how important it is to work to postpone any effort to follow through on the thought. "Postpone" is a shocking term. By using this term I do not mean to suggest that it is inevitable that the thought will lead to an attempt at self destruction. Instead the term is used to emphasize the urgency of the situation.

That means telling adults even if you promised your friend that you would keep the conversation confidential. Even if doing so will make your friend mad. Let them be mad. One must be alive to be mad and that is a great trade off.

Refer them immediately to suicide prevention hotlines and services. If you are an adult who works with young people you should have a card made up with phone numbers and other contact information for service providers.

But all of that is a detailed topic for another post. This discussion is for all of the times that suicide has not been verbalized. this discussion is for all of the times that pain has been verbalized, but not heard.

Think how often you have heard it said, in a strong tone of derision and scorn--"Well she just said that to get attention."

A young person who must go to those lengths in order to get attention must be in desperate need of that attention. It is the silent cries for attention that we must become better at listening for.

I have no science to support  this belief, but I strongly suspect that the verbalization of a desire to end one's life makes it much more likely that a young person will follow through on that verbalization.

If I am correct, it makes it very important to make sure that the young person receive attention before having to ever say or write anything about ending their life.

When a young person says something like, "Everyone in school hates me,' that is the time to put down everything that you are doing and have a meaningful conversation.

That is not the time to say, "Oh, I'm sure that it is not all that bad."

When a young person says, "I feel like I am always letting everyone down.", put your phone down and find out what it going on in that child's life.

When an adopted child says, "I don't understand why my parents did not love me.", that is not a time for bumper sticker platitudes. It is a time to help that child understand their own worth as a human.

Young people talk to me. They always have, even when I was only 13 or 14 little kids at school talked to me about problems that they were having on the bus, at home, at recess, or in class. Often they are so tentative in what they are saying to me that I am unable to identify the problem.

At those times I bluntly say, "I know something is wrong but I am not sure what it is, based on what you are saying. Tell me in another way so I can understand."

And they do. I never fall back on silly thoughts like, "Well, when they are ready to talk to me I am sure they will."  If I see a kid that is hurting and I ask them what is wrong, only to see tears being quickly wiped away as the child whimpers out "nothing." I do not let the conversation end there.

I do not mind being direct. More direct than most others might think appropriate. I do not feel bad for responding, "Hey, don't play that stuff with me. Who do you think I am, just some old man to be blown off that easy? Now lets talk about what is wrong."

Talking to young people is not brain surgery. It is no harder than communicating with a wild horse. You can learn to hear what a horse is saying with its eyes.

You can also learn to hear silent cries of young people in pain.

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