More support for parents of suicidal children

Summary

Odisee University College has launched a website to help parents cope with youngsters who have attempted suicide or are talking about it

Media has role to play

A website to support the parents of children with suicidal thoughts has been launched by researchers at Odisee University College. This follows a successful test phase at the beginning of the year and the backing of Flemish health minister Jo Vandeurzen.

The site has been developed by Alexandre Reynders, a researcher at Odisee’s Higher Institute for Family Studies in Brussels. He began by carrying out interviews with the parents of children aged 10 to 24 who had experienced suicidal thoughts in the recent past or had attempted suicide.

He found that the parents experienced significant physical and psychological stress when dealing with these situations, their emotions running from sadness and anxiety to  powerlessness or guilt. “They are often in a state of constant vigilance in order to prevent something happening to their child,” he explained to VRT News. “This in turn leads to physical and psychological complaints such as insomnia, depression and sometimes, in turn, suicidal thoughts themselves.”

Some parents limit their social contacts in order to concentrate on their child’s welfare, or because they feel a social stigma connected to suicide. This can leave them feeling isolated.

Parents helping parents

The website Help! Mijn kind denkt aan zelfmoord responds to these pressures by providing information about suicide and advising parents how they can care for themselves in order to better support their children. It also contains details on parental rights, exercises that teach supportive parenting and numerous testimonials from parents in a similar situations.

In related news, research from KU Leuven shows that perceptions of suicide are affected by how the media talks about the issue. The study, conducted in Germany, found that the words used to describe a death by suicide trigger different associations.

Journalist should always be careful to choose the least ‘loaded’ term when reporting on suicide

- Lecturer Sebastian Scherr

Suizid (suicide) was shown to be a neutral word, while selbstmord (self-murder) had a pejorative overtone since it suggests a crime. Freitod (free or voluntary death) was controversially positive, since it suggests a rational decision.

The researchers recommend that journalists use neutral terms where possible. “All journalists can play a major role in suicide prevention, regardless of their language,” commented Sebastian Scherr of KU Leuven’s School for Mass Communication Research. “They should always be careful to choose the least ‘loaded’ term when reporting on suicide.”

The researchers now plan to investigate journalists’ awareness of guidelines recommending how best to discuss suicide.

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