I can’t completely take credit for this idea. It came to me reading an article about helping traumatized children heal, but I do believe it is something that we don’t always think about when offering advice on things like how to know if your child might be in trouble, or if your friends might be suicidal.
We are often told to look for drastic changes in behavior. But, here’s an interesting way of looking at it from that article:
The best way for a parent or caregiver to identify when something may be wrong is to be proactive and make sure they actually know the child’s regular behaviors. Do they always sit quietly for long periods of time? Is it common for them to yell and throw toys?
“Know your children’s behaviors and when they change, for some reason. It isn’t always abuse, but it could be something important in a child’s life that needs to be worked through,” said Frasier, who specializes in child abuse pediatrics at the Penn State Hershey Child Protection Program.
It seems obvious, but I wonder how many of us really know the normal behaviors of our family and friends? When you are concerned about a friend, do you know enough about their normal behaviors to recognize that there’s been a change? I’ve shared numerous articles in recent months about reaching out to friends when you’re concerned about their mental health, when you’ve noticed them not being themselves. Assumed in that advice is that you are actually close enough, and in contact enough, to really notice that something is off. This, in my humble opinion, is where we are currently failing.
Think about it, when you read that quote above, you may have thought to yourself “Gee, who doesn’t know how their own kids normally behave?”. I did for a brief moment, and then I remembered that I was being abused as a kid, and no one really noticed. I have no doubt that my behavior probably changed as the abuse started, but no one noticed. It was a large family, with an alcoholic parent. In the midst of that chaos, my changes in behavior just didn’t raise to the level of something that needed to be noticed right now.
For our adult friends, can we honestly say that we are close enough to notice the kind of behavior change that would point to suicidal thoughts or ideas? Again, think about how much chaos we currently live with? Work, politics, the news, social media, our various projects and hustles, and our own issues tend to dominate our attention on a daily basis. How much do we really know about what is going on in our friends lives? How can we when everyone is constantly BUSY. Being busy is the new black. No one wants to even admit to taking a break anymore, or
There are a million little reasons why we are currently in a situation where loneliness has become an epidemic. Each of those reasons is something that prevents us from truly connecting with the people in our lives. When we are only loosely connected to each other, we can’t possibly know enough to know that something is going on, let alone reach out effectively when it is most needed.
Given that, reach out anyway. Keep reaching out. Get out of the chaos and connect with the people in your life. The stuff you’re giving your attention will still be there. Will your friends and family?
Reach out. Find out how they are. Make sure they know you care.