By Ayan Nur and Mariam Kandil
“Abdullah* had been asking for help, but we didn’t get it . . . He was a nice kid. Always polite and respectful — the kind of kid every parent dreamed of. But he had struggled. His father was known to be hot-headed and a number of times people had heard him yelling at Abdullah in the masjid. No one wanted to ruffle the dad’s feathers, so everyone remained quiet… Eventually, everyone stopped seeing him at the masjid….And then we find out he committed suicide.”
*name changed for privacy
What would you say to your children if they were friends with Abdullah? How would you support them as they grieve the death of their friend? As a community leader or educator, how do you support Muslim children and youth? It is hard to imagine that suicide is even an issue among our young people, but it is happening all across Muslim communities. Suicide can be a sensitive topic, but it is one that needs to be addressed.
The Family & Youth Institute (FYI), a research and education institute that promotes mental health and well being of individuals and families and, specializes in the needs of American Muslims, has developed resources for individuals who might be suicidal, who are suicide attempt survivors, suicide loss survivors, mental health professionals, educators, community organizers, and family and friends affected by suicide. These Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources include: i) Community Action Guide, ii) Toolkit iii) Prevention Infographic, iv) Intervention Infographic, and v) National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Video (featuring Dr. Sawssan Ahmed, an FYI researcher).
As a parent, what can you do to support your grieving child?
- What is most helpful is to listen without judging, interpreting, advising, or evaluating- don’t be quick to offer advice and give opinions.
- Reflect back to them so that they know they have been heard. For example, “You really get uncomfortable when kids at school talk about your friend. You wish they knew what it’s like to have a friend die.” Doing this helps children trust that you will listen to them.
Be open to different ways of grieving
- Children can have a wide range of reactions and ways of expressing their grief
- There is no right or wrong way to grieve – some cry, some lash out in anger and others withdraw
- Let them know ALL of their reactions are okay and supporting them to discover what works best for them (as long as their behavior does not hurt themselves or others)
Know that grief doesn’t follow a schedule
- The stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance
- Grieving may include one, all, or none of these experiences and they do not occur in any particular order
- Let your child know it’s common for their feelings, thoughts, and physical responses to change day to day, sometimes minute to minute!
There are different ways to communicate
- Children might turn more towards peers or solo endeavors such as music or journaling for comfort and support
- Children may not talk with the adults about how they are feeling or even about the person who died
- For teens especially, methods of communication that aren’t face to face can be easier to navigate.
- Passing a notebook back and forth, with the understanding that unless there was a safety concern, nothing written would be brought up in person, to be a great way to open up the lines of communication.
- Texting, email, short videos, or written notes – get creative and work with your teen to find what works for both of you.
Know that grief affects children on many levels
- Have trouble sleeping, especially in the few weeks or months after the death and/or have nightmares
- Have short tempers, mood swings, and experience irritability
- Can become forgetful, so your child may need extra reminders about chores and plans
- Experience difficulty concentrating in class or completing homework
For more information, check out The FYI Suicide Prevention Toolkit, a helpful resource for individuals affected by suicide. The Toolkit is a compilation of videos, articles, infographics and hotlines and is organized into sections by reader (suicidal individual, suicide attempt survivor, suicide loss survivor., etc).
As a community member or leader, what can you do after suicide loss?
The entire community and the peers of the person who died by suicide may also be shocked and trying to comprehend the tragedy. There may be other people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, have depression, or have experienced this before and are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, amongst other possibilities. Therefore, it is important that the whole community is aware of the way they conduct themselves, especially in the way in which the death is discussed. When talking about the incident, avoid hearsay and gossip and recognize that you do not know what is going on in the minds and hearts of the people around you. Check out the following resources for communities as a whole:
- The FYI Suicide Prevention Community Action Guide is designed to: increase community awareness and education, help identify ways to integrate prevention efforts into your community and highlight relevant resources for those in need. This guide is meant to equip you with the knowledge and tools to better prevent, intervene, and address suicide in your community and help save lives.
- The FYI Suicide Prevention and Intervention Infographics are another helpful resource. They cover topics such as factors that contribute to suicide, warning signs, what to do, and how to talk to someone who is contemplating suicide. These resources are quick and easy references that cover the basics, and are meant to help you intervene with someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, but also provide information to destigmatize suicide. It can be handed out in the community, and posted in areas which are heavily frequented by people.
- Handbook for Survivors of Suicide Loss This handbook covers grief, how to tell others (children, friends, etc.), managing social media, financial concerns, and other resources.
- A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide is a book for people who have lost a loved one to suicide, written by someone who has suffered the same loss. It addresses the emotional roller coaster a loss survivor experiences, grief, suicide facts and myths, battling guilt, moving on, and support.
- Suicide Survivor Resource list. This sheet lists a selection of organizations, websites, and materials that can help people who have lost someone to suicide. Many of these resources were developed by survivors of suicide loss.
- After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools identifies ways to deal with a tragic loss in a community. The content will help you effectively coordinate a crisis response, help individuals cope with their feelings, work with the community, address social media and minimize the risk of suicide contagion. Though it is written for educators and school leaders, the content can be easily transferable for communities and an excellent resource for community leaders.
- Grief Toolkit: http://www.thefyi.org/toolkits/grief-support-tool-kit/
- Crisis Text Line. Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
- Muslim Youth 24-hr Helpline: 1.866.627.3342 (http://naseeha.org/)
- Stones to Bridge (anonymous support and counseling for Muslim youth) http://www.stonestobridges.org/
Helping those affected by suicide can be difficult and draining, but inshaAllah will be rewarding. The Family and Youth Institute is available to help support the mental health and well being of American Muslims. We hope these resources are beneficial to you and if you have any questions or want more information please visit our website http://www.thefyi.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.