If I could change anything about my approach to Rader's mental health in the months before his suicide, it would be this: I would ask the question, "Are you thinking about suicide?"
It's not that I wasn't asking anything of the sort. When he started on an antidepressant in the spring, I read him the black box warning. I wanted him to be clear that while antidepressants are helpful in many cases, sometimes for young people, they have been reported to cause suicidal thoughts. And so I told him, if he should begin to have such thoughts, it would be scary, but to know it was just the medicine's influence on the chemicals in his brain; to tell us about it, and we would fix it. And for weeks, because we didn't know how he would respond to the medication, we didn't leave him alone at all. At first, he said he didn't feel like the medicine was doing anything. Then he said maybe he was starting to feel a little better. After six weeks or so, the psychiatrist felt he seemed to be tolerating the drug and we could increase the dose. We did that and didn't see any signs of negative side effects, so we relaxed our supervision somewhat.
Once we started allowing him to be by himself again, I would check in with him every time I was going to leave the house. I would walk into the computer room (he was always working on making new games or projects) and tell him where I was going and how long I'd be gone, and that he could reach me on my phone whenever he needed. I would ask him if he was OK. What I meant was, "Is it safe to leave you; are you thinking of harming yourself?" But I didn't come right out and say that. I was afraid to, afraid of the power of suggestion, that if I mentioned suicide, it could push him in that direction. I didn't know studies * * * have proven that old idea wrong.
And so that Wednesday night, the first one after school got out for the summer, I went to see him at the computer, and I told him where everyone in the family was going to be, and when we'd get back, and that he could text me if he needed me. And I asked if that was OK, if he was OK. And he said yes. The last thing he ever said to me was that he was OK.
So ASK is the first of the five action steps that BeThe1To has for communicating with someone who may be suicidal. It's the one that hits me the hardest, because I didn't know. If you're concerned about someone's mental health, please ASK. If you don't know how, or what to say, Seize the Awkward can help. Studies show you don't have to be afraid to be direct.
ASK. It's a matter of life and death.