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Opening up the dialogue

Suicide prevention workshop held for parents in West Hempstead

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Instructors from the Lutheran Counseling Center in Mineola and parents at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in West Hempstead agreed that the hardest part of addressing suicide is speaking to their children about it. The counseling center held a suicide prevention workshop for parents at the church last Sunday.

Many of the participants said they believed that, similar to when actor John Wayne referred to his cancer diagnosis as “the Big C,” suicide is now the biggest taboo subject in America. Linda Robertson, secretary of the church council at St. Andrew’s, said that she hoped Sunday’s discussion would help break that stigma. She said that she and Molly Blancke, executive director of the Lutheran Counseling Center, wanted to hold similar workshops throughout the county.

“The problem for them is that nobody wanted to have the conversation,” Robertson said. “They were having a hard time finding people willing to host it. I think people are just afraid to talk about it, and everyone gets so scared when that subject is brought up.”

She added that while there were no suicides in the community that prompted church officials to host this discussion, they didn’t want to wait until one occurred.

Blancke said that nearly 100 pastors across the state have taken part in suicide prevention training with the nonprofit counseling center. She also said that the LCC plans to start a similar program in Nassau County for police officers and first responders.

“It’s ultra-important for parents to have this discussion with their kids,” Blancke told the Herald. “I think that we have to do something proactive to change the statistics and get rid of the stigmas out there.”

Children as young as 8 experience anxiety, according to LCC counselor Cynthia Terrell. She said that social media, the increase of cyberbullying and the rigors of state testing are some of the main contributors to anxiety among young children.

“All of our kids are on social media, whether you like it or not,” Terrell told the participants. “We all go through life stresses, but the difference is the way we cope with them. As parents, you have to open up the door for communication because the conversation is already out there so you want to give them the right, accurate information.”

Terrell also said that it is important to have the discussion because many who are at risk for suicide have mental health issues, and she said, people stigmatize mental illnesses. “What we want to do is to shift the thinking . . .,” she said. “That just adds to one’s feelings of worthlessness.”

Forrest Parkinson, another counselor at LCC, said that because of the increasing presence of children on social media, more of them think about suicide. “Kids are already impulsive. They don’t always need the same impulsivity depressants that older men have,” Parkinson said. “That’s why it’s so important that kids have a chance to feel safe, to work through some of their feelings in a way that can be helpful to them.”

Susan Carentz, of New Hyde Park, said her son committed suicide at age 29 seven years ago. She said that addressing suicide becomes more difficult as children get older. “It’s hard when they’re adults and they’re out on their own,” Carentz said. “Sadly, these things happen, and that’s why I’m such a proponent for dialogue.”

Carol Hering, a congregant of St. Andrew’s, said that while she does not have children, she had hoped to share some of the knowledge from the discussion with parents in her community. “This topic should be covered more in schools and at home, but people are afraid to have the conversation,” she said. “The Lutheran Counseling Center has been a wonderful resource to help people open up.”

Both Terrell and Parkinson said that one of the best ways to address the subject is during car rides, because there is less eye contact, which makes children feel more comfortable.

“The conversation won’t be easy,” Parkinson said. “But as long as it’s coming from a place of love and compassion, that can get through to the children.”

For those in need of support, the Long Island Crisis Center’s 24/7 hotline is (516) 679-1111, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255.