For those of you who think all I do is sit around thinking about polyamory this article is going to prove you wrong. And for those of you who are here only to read about polyamory this is when you should change the channel. In this article I'm going to talk a bit about suicide from the perspective of a parent.
Imagine you have a teenage daughter who is fairly close to one of her older female cousins. The cousin picks your daughter up in her car a few times a month to go shopping or to movies, they spend nights at each others homes, and are generally fairly close.
Then one fine day the cousin decides to attempt suicide, failing because she is found in time by a family member. After a night in the hospital, the cousin is remanded to a mental health facility for a week after which she is released and enrolled in counseling.
After a month or so without much contact, the cousin begins reaching out to your daughter via phone calls and messages, wanting to once again go shopping, to movies, or having overnights. For the past month, since the suicide attempt, you haven't heard much about the cousin except that she is doing well. Her family, feeling the suicide attempt is a private matter and possibly wanting to keep things quiet, haven't said much about what happened or how things have changed since.
When your daughter comes to you to ask if it is okay for the cousin to pick her up in her car so they can go shopping, then to her house for an overnight, what do you say?
My response was "no". When asked why I explained that I didn't know the current mental state of the cousin.
About a month later at a family gathering I was verbally attacked by a relative claiming I was being unreasonable. They stated I was being unfair to both my daughter and the cousin for no reason and they demanded an explanation why my daughter was not allowed to ride in the cousin's car or have a sleepover without other adult supervision. When I stated I didn't know the current mental state of the cousin they argued that it shouldn't be my concern, it was a matter being handled within their immediate family. They further maintained that since the cousin was being allowed to drive her car and make invitations to my daughter I should realize that means she is mentally fine.
This is about the time I dug my heels in and prepared for battle.
One of my jobs as a parent is to protect my children. In performing that job there are measured risks that are taken every day. Allowing my child to ride in a car with anyone is a risk, we can probably all agree on that one. But realistically riding in a car is a common thing a lot of us risk every day. Does that mean I would allow my child to ride in a car driven by someone without a license, or a long history of accidents? Nope. With the mental health problems the cousin had in the recent past, and without being informed of her treatment or status, how can I know she is stable? How could I know she won't decide to again try and commit suicide by running her car into a wall? Possibly with my daughter in the car at the time? Likewise, would I allow my daughter to spend a night unsupervised with a friend at their house? Nope. With the mental health of the cousin in question how could I think it wise to allow my daughter to spend the night with her unsupervised?
In my mind it comes back to a level of risk I am willing to accept. Riding in a car is a risk but it is a common activity. At the same time, I can control the risks somewhat as mentioned. Minimizing my daughters exposure, particularly unsupervised exposure, to someone with mental health issues is a risk I can control.
One of the questions this begs is; "How can you know the mental health of anyone?" The answer is I can't. I'm not a mental health professional and even most of them will tell you there are no guarantees when it comes to the human brain. Going back to risk; assuming a healthy mental state is a risk we all take on a daily basis. Don't believe me? Next time you are in the grocery store look at the person in line behind you. Are they a serial killer? Pedophile? Violent? Are they armed at the moment? If they were any of those things would you be standing in front of them, within arms reach? Of course you wouldn't. But you are because you assume the mental health of those around you until they give you an indication they aren't mentally healthy. But wait, the cousin was proven to not be mentally healthy, at least mildly. And to that I can react appropriately, as a parent, and attempt to minimize the risk of my daughter being harmed either directly or indirectly.
I learned a lot during this process. (This was not my first exposure to suicide by any means). I was particularly surprised how many people are ashamed by suicide attempts and try to minimize the information shared about them. I also found it interesting how people are sometimes surprised and angered when they realize a suicide attempt may cause them to be treated differently, though this may explain why many try to hide it. This seems to be even more pronounced when rather than being treated gently and with extra consideration they are instead treated with a level of wariness or even mistrust. I also second guessed my actions quite a bit, wondering if I was overreacting. My conclusion was that when it comes to the safety of my children following my instincts, even if they are overreacting at times, is better than the alternative.
What are your thoughts? Would you resist exposure of your children to someone with a questionable state of mental health, even if it hadn't been verified? Do you measure risk like I do, or do you have another method? What would you have done different had you been me?