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I’m terrified my son is considering harming himself

By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

I’m terrified my son is considering harming himself

I’m terrified my son, who is away at college, is depressed and considering harming himself. What can I do? As parents, we fiercely protect our children throughout their lives. We place infants on their backs to reduce the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When children venture out on bicycles for the first time, we make sure they have wellfitting helmets. With each step of independence, we try to ensure that they have a strong sense not only of our physical care for them, but also of our emotional and spiritual support.

Trust your instincts. If you are concerned that your son may harm himself, then don’t second-guess your feelings. If you feel that the threat is imminent, then call the college’s public safety/police department (911).

Access expert crisis resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 800.273.8255. You can call and talk about your concerns regarding your son’s depression.

Share your concerns with your son. Let your son know of your concerns. Listen carefully to see if your terrified reaction is an accurate reflection of his circumstances. The transition to college involves numerous academic challenges as well as the loss of familiar support systems. Sleep deprivation also can have a major impact.

Share your concerns with the college. Call the office of the dean of students and the college counseling center; provide the specific details regarding your concerns. Study federal laws impacting your involvement. College students can decide whether they want parents to have access to educational and health information (FERPA and HIPAA). Having an authorization form signed by your son allows the sharing of specific information.

Take steps over Christmas break. There are conversation starters in a guide developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the JED Foundation: nami.org/collegeguide/download. Use this time to develop a strategy for the coming semester.

Turn to your own support system during this heartwrenching time. Allow others to be there for you. Bring your terror to your loving Creator: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." (Ps 56:4)