how to explain suicide mental illness to children child kids

How I Explain the Raw Truths of PTSD to My Children

It was meant to be a good day. A day full of positive distractions. A day of moving forward with new ambitions. The type of day when we least expect PTSD triggers to strike. The type of day that we both happily let our guard down. Though maybe it was because of that, when the intrusions unexpectedly began to flood his mind I saw they had hit him that bit harder, and for that bit longer.

But that’s not what upset me the most that day.

He came home and let me know right away that his day had been a particularly bad one. No, he didn’t know what he felt. No, he didn’t know what he needed. There’s no easy way for him to escape the memories, and no possible way for him to normalise them. In his torment, he craved space, but I could also sense he still desperately needed to stay close to our love and support.

It’s always upsetting to see him like this, but that’s not what upset me the most that day.

It was as the children and I sat down to our dinner, after first gently checking on my husband, that the surge of questions began. Is Daddy okay? Why is he not eating his dinner? Why is he outside in the dark on the swing by himself? Why is he just sitting there doing nothing? Mummy, why does Daddy look so sad?

I always strive to be open with my children, and I generally trust that they will only ask a question if they’re ready to hear the answer. But the next question from my daughter truly rattled me.

Already, at seven, my daughter can be deeply perceptive. Just like me, she could see her father was on his own, but was not actually alone. Just like me, she could read the torment on his face as he became utterly swamped by the dark memories that will never fade. And just like me, she already holds real-life fears.

“Mummy, do people sometimes kill themselves?”

I willed myself not to let the shock of her question register on my face. I willed myself not to look over at my husband outside. I needed a second to breathe. “Do you want an honest answer?”

She nodded.

As I attempted to find the words that might form a sensitive reply, I was suddenly grateful that my 5-year-old son had briefly left the table, thankfully not hearing our conversation. And I morosely let myself wonder what other families were discussing around their dinner tables that evening. “Sometimes people have so much sadness and hurt inside them, and for such a long time, that they feel there’s no other way to stop it. They believe that nothing could ever make them feel better, that no one could possibly help.”

Her eyes were locked on mine. I held them. I needed her to really hear what I was about to say next. “And yes, sometimes they may want to kill themselves. They think it will end their pain, but often they don’t realise that the hurt and sadness won’t end there. It will be passed onto all the people that love them and miss them – their friends, their family, and their children.”

She took in my words. I could see her turning the answer over in her mind as she glanced out the window at her father. “Will Daddy do that?”

Once again, I wasn’t prepared. I thought I still had more time before encountering these heavy questions. How could I tell her that I don’t know for sure? How could I honestly admit that it’s never a certainty when PTSD is involved?

“No darling, Daddy won’t do that.”

It wasn’t enough for her. “But Mummy, what if he decided to?”

“We know Daddy has sadness and hurt inside him because of the PTSD, but Daddy knows that we all love him so much and that we’re here to help him in any way we can. And he would never want to do anything to hurt us.”

On a day that was meant to be a good day, I talked about suicide with my daughter years before it should even be in her vocabulary. I acknowledged the raw truths of PTSD. And then, as I spoke out loud some of the darkest fears I harbour, I recognised the same fears in my own children.

On a day that ended up anything but good, it was this reality that upset me the most.



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  1. Oh my – just read your words and it struck me how PTSD continues to have a grip on those that follow – I haven’t got children sadly but it’s sad to think of a seven year old asking about suicide!
    I think you handled it amazingly, your daughter will grow up with an empathy to mental health issues with your love and wisdom guiding her. Much love to you from someone who’s partner has PTSD. Xxx

    • PTSD doesn’t just stop with the person who suffers with it. It has its very own ripple effect. Thank you for comment, Emma, and your kind words.

  2. You have such an amazing way with words Oh Lea – you’ve written beautifully about such a tough and painful challenge. I can only imagine how hard that conversation must have been with your daughter – especially when you were unprepared for it. Your love and compassion for all your family shine through your writing and by sharing your experiences you are helping others of us who are on our own PTSD journeys. I too send you love and hope today is calm for you all.

    • Thank you Tracy. It was a very difficult conversation, but I was just very thankful that my older son and husband weren’t present for it. My toddler was there, but it was obviously way over his head. The dark clouds have begun to clear once again. I wish you much strength on your own journey.

  3. “On a day that was meant to be a good day…” That line struck me hard. Our days that are usually planned out takes the most drastic turns and I find myself trying to desperately strategize how I can leave with my 21 month old son while my partner threatening to take him. Those days are the worst because once he has an episode there is nothing getting through to him. My partner has severe PTSD and he’s not anywhere near getting help or wanting it. Everyday I’m walking on eggshells because what is supposed to good days always ends badly with unfiltered and hateful words said to me. And I’m usually called the crazy one. You’re so strong. The more I read your blogs the more I realize that this life is not for me and my son.

    • It’s always such a kick in the stomach when a day seems to be good, but then turns bad in an instant. Please remember that it is not your job to keep the calm around him, he needs to be accountable for his actions and eventually recognise that his PTSD needs professional support to be managed better. In the meantime, please find professional support for yourself, for both your sake and the sake of your child. Take care.

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