Talking Childhood Suicide with Confidence Coach and Survivor Iva Ballou
It’s strange to acknowledge that we live in a time where suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teenagers. Stay with me now, this thought isn’t coming out of no where. Since this year has started, more and more children have taken to ending their own lives as a method to handling their problems. Children who have yet to realize that they have their whole lives ahead of them; a chance to go anywhere and do anything. Children who feel so stressed, so afraid, so unsafe, so unloved, so forgotten and so disconnected that they believe death to be the only way out. These thoughts and feelings are in no way a stranger to me, so much so that I attempted suicide once myself as a child, and twice more as an adult. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined. With this subject hitting so close to home and wanting to gain insight from an industry leader, I called up a dear friend of mine, Iva, for a chat. Iva Ballou is a transformational speaker, confidence coach and cleft lip survivor who uses her amazing gift of speaking as a tool against bullies. Possessing that entrepreneur spirit that I love, she is also the founder of RealSophisticatedJoy, which is a company that equips teens and young adults with the necessary life skills to make positive life changes. Here is how a bit of our conversation went.
Dove: What do you remember about your first suicide attempt?
Iva: I remember coming home from school, upset, and frustrated about being picked on consistently. I remember thinking “when is this feeling of heaviness going to end? What if it doesn’t end. I can’t handle this”. So I got a razor, I have no idea where it came from, I just remember it being in my hand. I was looking down at my wrist, thinking this is how I end this. I cut the wrong way and not deep enough to cause serious harm, but it was deep enough to see blood. Once I saw the blood, I snapped back.
Dove: Yeah, I can imagine that must have been the scariest part. As a 12 year old looking down at the visual confirmation of how close you’d just come to doing something very serious. How did you get help after that?
Iva: I told my dad, who was concerned, but expressed that he was happy that I told him. We then talked for hours about everything that I was feeling. Within two weeks my parents had me signed up with a therapist.
Dove: That’s remarkable and I’m so glad that you told your dad. In addition to therapy, what were some things that you did to change those negative thoughts around?
Iva: Thanks to my dad‘s connection with the track coach at my middle school, I was able to get involved with track and I was decent at it. I wasn’t great, but I could hold my own, and that helped to boost my confidence. It also allowed me to gain the respect of the girls who were bullying me.
Dove: It is truly amazing that your parents were able to be by your side through that difficult time. Many children who are suicidal do not feel as if they are able to go to their parents with their concerns. What advice do you have for parents of children who may be suicidal?
Iva: Listen without judgement. Get help for your child without shame. If you know or suspect this of your child, be proactive, and get them help. The minimum that should be done is to create a space for them to speak about their thoughts.
Dove: It’s unfortunate that not all parents will be receptive to children who are dealing with these kinds of thoughts. What advice do you have for a child who may be considering suicide?
Iva: To know that you are not alone, even if your inner voice tells you otherwise. Talk to someone whom you know cares for you, and you trust them with this information. If you don’t have anyone that you can speak too, write your feelings down in a journal or consider taking up a hobby that allows you to express yourself.
Dove: Now what about the other side of the equation? I find it so fascinating that your program offers tools and resources to children to prevent them from becoming bullies themselves. What should parents do if they learn that their child is bullying someone?
Iva: Ask questions to understand where their actions are coming from and be prepared for the response. It may be that they are replaying actions that they have seen or had done to them. Have conversations with them, discussing what bullying is and what it isn’t. Let them know what acceptable behaviors are. Try lecturing or responding too harshly, as they may not receive the information or they may choose to retaliate on the victim.
Dove: That’s an excellent point that you bring up about retaliating against the victim. Many bullies are projecting their anger onto others because of how they are being treated by someone else. What would you say to that young child who is bullying someone?
Iva: When interacting with a young child who is bullying someone, I would ask them to consider how they feel when someone says something mean towards them — so that they can better understand how they are making the victim feel by their words or actions. We would then discuss ways to better express themselves without hurting other children.
As a suicide survivor, I sympathize with children who have reached such a low point and I plead that we as humans take a strong look at the children in our lives. I urge us all to take an extra minute to make sure that those close to us feel safe to share their inner thoughts and feelings. If you need assistance or direction, or if you suspect someone of being bullied or being a bully, you can click here to visit Iva’s website to contact her or gain more of her tremendous insight. Be safe everyone.