Don’t Ignore The Warning Signs

This is the most blunt I’ve ever written on a topic. This is perhaps the most personal I’ll get while respecting my children’s health journeys. The disturbing story coming from Oxford, Michigan this week is horrific. I feel obligated to tell my friends and any who will listen: “Don’t ignore the warning signs.”

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Violence, Self-Harm

Our family’s story is different than the horrific tragedy in Michigan this week. It has a different set of foundational circumstances, with different factors, a much different potential outcome and a different ending. It did not involve guns or schools or mass tragedies. However, the similarities are there, an apparent mental health issue, disturbing thoughts/remarks, concerns by professionals and decision points that us, the parents had to make.

Any of those decision points can be the last barrier between help and heartache. We as parents have had to learn (sometimes the hard way) on our journey parenting children with mental health issues that we have to be humble enough to listen to what people with more experience in this arena have to say.

We also had to learn that love means making decisions that may not be liked by our child, but are for their benefit, that of our family, another individual or entire community.

Yes, parents will make the wrong decisions. Yes, the system of mental healthcare is broken. Yes, sometimes you lose friends and even family relationships because people have horrible stigmas about mental health. But, I can tell you with every fiber of my being that parents have an obligation to heed the warning signs.

When you’re at those decision points, make the cautious decision.

What are warning signs to dangerous behaviors in a child/teen? Here are some different instances. Take a moment to educate yourself.

Even the kindest, most attentive and studious teenager can have a mental health crisis. When one arises, if there’s imminent threat of harm, call 911. If you have suspicions, contact a mental health counselor. Put more eyes on your child. Share your concerns with teachers, coaches, parents of their friends, clergy and those whom you trust. It only takes one decision point before you can’t have a second opportunity to help your child.

I would rather a thousand times over make a decision unpopular with my teen, such as taking them for counseling or searching their room than live for the rest of my life with regret. I would rather my child have six months in therapy or a year in residential treatment than not having them around at all.

Our world exerts so much pressure on our children. They are not going to come to you and say, “I’m having thoughts of suicide,” or, “I want to harm my friends.” They’re going to shove it down and try to cover it up because they don’t want those feelings themselves and they certainly don’t know how to share it publicly. They may think quiet action is better what they perceive as public humiliation.

May I plead with you to watch for the warning signs and to wisely act at each decision point. Our community, working together, seeing these signs and communicating with one another is what has kept our family whole.

I don’t normally ask you to share these articles. But please, share this. From a father that has been there and knows. Please help me reach others with this, that our love for our children means we need to do everything to keep them and other safe.

Footnotes:

Dwyer, K., Osher, D., & Warger, C. (2000, Spring). Warning signs of school violence. ERIC Review. School Safety: A Collaborative Effort. 7(1) pp 16-17. (ERIC Document No. ED440640)

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