Focus on Mental Health: An interview with providers, Part 3

With the ongoing mental health crisis in Upper Michigan having open conversations with our kids is so important
Dr. Bowden explains simply asking your child, "What do you know about and how does that make you feel?" can be a huge help.
Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 9:57 AM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - In part three of our Focus on Mental Health, we’re helping you start conversations about mental health.

In the first two parts of the series, we talked about how we view mental health, the warning signs and red flags to look out for our in our children, and we emphasized the importance of talking with our children when we’re concerned. But how do we start those conversations? How do we as parents, friends and community members talk about mental health and suicide in a productive and safe way.

In part three we hear more from Doctor Jennifer Bowden, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at UP Health System and Doctor Kelley Mahar, a psychiatrist at UP Health System. Dr. Bowden and Dr. Mahar say it’s important to be an asset in our kids’ lives and it’s more than just talking. It’s ensuring our homes are a safe space that is also vital.

Dr. Bowden: “So I think it can be really good to have open conversations, especially with what’s been going on in the community, to have conversations and just starting with - what do you know about and what do you think about that? And then, talking to them about how you want them to be healthy and how you want them to have a safe future. It is really common for teenagers to have thoughts of not wanting to live anymore. Very, very common. But not everyone acts on those thoughts. So, it’s important to have the conversation if these thoughts become more common, if you’re thinking about wanting to act on these thoughts, if you’re thinking about them and they’re not going away. I need to know about these. I need to know about them in the nighttime when you’re all alone, I will not punish you. This will not be a shaming exercise. I will not tell you that you’re just trying to seek attention. I just want to know about them and then we can work on it together.”

Dr. Mahar: “One other thing I really wanted to touch on is that you know, when we think about suicidality, there are in some way two different kinds. There’s when someone is having suicidal thoughts, you know that are coming and going or they’re actually making plans to end their lives. But then there’s this thing that happens, that’s an acute suicidal crisis, and that can happen for someone who’s been thinking about suicide for a while, but also for someone who’s not had those thoughts before. And we know actually that 48% of suicide attempts happening within like 15 minutes of first having those thoughts. And for that reason, it’s really really important for parents and people in general to be aware of what we can do at a different level of prevention, which is reducing access to lethal means even if you haven’t had those thoughts before or your child hasn’t had those thoughts before. You know one of the things we can do is reduce access to firearms and what do I mean by that? I don’t mean everyone has to get rid of their guns. We live in a hunting culture and many people have guns. But we want to build in time and obstacles for a person to get access to a loaded firearm. Because in that period of an acute suicidal crisis, a person has tunnel vision. This seems like the only way to end their pain. That’s very real and we want to give them time and not make it easy.”

Dr. Mahar stresses kids know more than we give them credit for, so storing guns and ammunition properly might mean, changing lock combinations and passwords often, being creative and re-evaluating your plans on a regular basis.