Trigger warning: This post deals with suicide ideation and may be distressing for some readers.
If someone had told me pre-parenthood that a 4-year-old could communicate suicidal thoughts, I wouldn’t have believed them. Years later, with my own newly adopted bundle of joy, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about children and mental illness.
We were loving parents, protective and careful about media. And yet our child Mateo, barely out of diapers, was telling us he wanted to die.
“I want to be dead, Mummy,” he’d say. “I want to cut my head off with scissors and die.”
I knew he didn’t entirely understand what death was — at 4, who would? But the intention was clear: He was unhappy. And if the thoughts weren’t enough, the actions soon followed.
He’d try to jump out of the moving car, rolling down the window when the door was locked. He’d run into the busy street on purpose. He’d grab sharp objects and make threatening motions to me or himself. Other strange things were happening, too. He never slept. Ever. It was like his body didn’t need it — constantly buzzing and hyper-aware. He had lengthy rages about every little thing and couldn’t be consoled. But mostly, he just stopped smiling.