Dear Dr. Bill,
My 13-year-old daughter is going through a lot of emotional turmoil right now. She’s struggling in school and has had terrible fights with her friends. One reason is that my husband divorced me last year and now plans to marry his live-in girlfriend. My daughter hates this girlfriend but feels like her father will only get mad if she says anything about it.
Worst of all, she recently confessed to having thoughts about suicide. If I tell her father about it, he’s likely to blame me since he doesn’t see any evidence of her troubles. And he’s hostile to the idea of letting her talk to a counselor. What should I do?
When a child mentions suicide, parents need to take it very, very seriously. It could be simply a “cry for help,” but you never want to take chances.
You mentioned your husband doesn’t see any evidence of your daughter’s troubles. Perhaps he’s so busy with his own life that he’s oblivious to her needs. Or it may be that she doesn’t feel safe telling him about her struggles.
I’d suggest you calmly share the facts with your husband—without blaming him for your daughter’s problems. Let him know about the academic issues, the fights, and her talk of suicide.
Tell him you want to schedule an appointment for all three of you to see a family therapist. If he balks at the idea, inform him that you and your daughter will be see a therapist without him—it’s his choice.
Also, have an open, honest discussion with your daughter about her thoughts of suicide. If you feel she may be in imminent danger, seek help immediately.
Thanks for writing Pam.