Suicide and Suicidal Ideation in Neurodivergent Teens & Children, with Dr. Matt Zakreski

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Have you been worried about your child or teen in relation to suicide and suicidal ideation? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with Dr. Matthew Zakreski for a long time because it’s critical that we demystify and talk out loud about suicide and suicidal ideation, especially in the current state of the world.

I’ve seen Dr. Matt speak about heavy topics in a way that felt approachable and actionable, so I wanted to share his insights and wisdom for listeners whose child or teen is grappling with depression, heavy feelings, and/or suicidal ideation and tendencies. During our time together we talked about how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of our kids, how to hold space for the difficult conversation surrounding suicide, and why we need to break through the fear of talking about suicide. Lastly, Dr. Matt emphasizes the importance of parents seeking support when their child is depressed or suicidal, too.


About Dr. Matthew Zakreski

Matthew Zakreski, PsyD is a high energy, creative clinical psychologist who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the needs of his neurodiverse clients. He is proud to serve as a consultant, a professor, and a researcher on Giftedness. Dr. Zakreski is a member of Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted and the National Association for Gifted Children, as well as Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education and the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children. Dr. Zakreski is the co-founder and lead clinician at The Neurodiversity Collective.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • How Dr. Matt’s work has been impacted by Covid-19
  • How to break past the fear of talking about suicide with your children
  • The importance of creating the space to have these difficult conversations
  • Resources Dr. Matt recommends for parents supporting children struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts
  • What the “defending the negative” strategy is and how you can use it in a conversation
  • How Dr. Matt uses the metrics of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness to help his patients
  • The importance of parents taking care of themselves and securing the support they need

Resources mentioned for suicide & suicidal ideation in teens and children


Episode Transcript

Matt Zakreski  00:00

When we talk about that with our kids, it’s about holding space and what I say to clients and intakes and when it comes up is my job. My number one job is to keep you safe. I’m never going to make a decision without talking to you. When feelings like that come up, it’s our job to think about all the options that are presented to us. Everything from yes, we need to go out to a hospital right now to maybe I need a day off from school. Right? And like you need to trust me as the adult in the room to know what those options are and how to connect you to them. And I need to trust you, my child or children to tell me what’s going on in your mind but also in your heart.

Debbie Reber  00:43

Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber. And before I get to today’s episode, I wanted to share a trigger warning that this episode explores topics that might be difficult to hear about including suicide and suicidal ideation. I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with Dr. Matt Zakreski for a long time because I think suicide is a really important topic to demystify and bring to light especially in the current state of the world. Dr. Matt is a high energy creative clinical psychologist who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the needs of his neuro diverse clients. He is a consultant, a professor and a researcher on giftedness, the co-founder and lead clinician at the neurodiversity collective, and is also a member of supporting the emotional needs of the gifted and the National Association for Gifted Children. I’ve seen Dr. Matt speak about heavy topics in a way that felt approachable and actionable. So I wanted to share his insights and wisdom for listeners whose child is dealing with heavy feelings or suicidal ideation. During our conversation, we talk about how Covid is impacted the mental health of kids how to hold space for the difficult conversations surrounding suicide, breaking past the fear of talking about it, and the importance of parents seeking support for themselves to this is such an important conversation to be having right now. If this resonates with you, or you know of communities who would benefit from listening to this honest dialogue about a topic that often goes on discussed, please share this episode. And also, don’t forget to check out the show notes page for more resources. You can find that at And now here is my conversation with Matt.

Debbie Reber  02:51

Hey, Matt, welcome to the podcast.

Matt Zakreski  02:54

Oh, I’m so happy to be here.

Debbie Reber  02:56

I am really, I don’t know if excited is the right word for the conversation we’re about to have. But I feel very drawn to bring this conversation to the podcast. And it’s just such an important topic right now more than ever, and I knew you were the person I wanted to bring on the show to talk about this. Because of your experience. I’ve seen you speak about lots of complicated, heavy subjects that we’re going to get into today. So I’ve already read your former bio, but would you spend a few minutes introducing us in your own language to what you do in the world?

Matt Zakreski  03:29

Sure. So Hi, I’m Dr. Matt Zakreski. I’m a clinical psychologist, everybody calls me Dr. Matt. So I’ll invite you guys to do the same. And I specialize in working with neurodiverse kids and teens, specifically gifted twice exceptional kids on the spectrum. It’s something that as you know, someone who grew up as gifted, I realized sort of in my own educational career that like there’s a lot of great resources for kids who are doing, who fit the box of education. And there aren’t as many resources for kids who don’t. And when I got to graduate school, I thought, This is what I want to do. These are the kids I want to work with. And I can help sort of smooth their paths a little bit. And, you know, I tried to wear a lot of hats, therapy, intelligence, testing, advocacy. I gave a lot of talks, I get to do awesome podcasts, like Debbie’s podcast, which is like yay for me. So yeah, I mean, that’s a short, dense version of what I do.

Debbie Reber  04:31

Awesome. And I’m actually curious to know what the past year and a half has been like for you. You know, I have a lot of friends in the mental health field who work with adolescents and children. And I just know that this has been somewhat of an unprecedented time in terms of stressors on our kids. So what has your work world been like?

Matt Zakreski  04:51

Intense would be a, I think, a pretty fair statement. You know, it’s so tough because you know, so Psychology isn’t really about giving answers. It’s not giving advice. It’s very much like reflection and giving space. But I’ve never felt more drawn over the last year and a half, to want to give an answer, right? I mean, I would love to tell kids, hey, you know, two months, and this will be done, or here’s how we survive this, or here’s what we do. And, and we just don’t know. And I think that the strength of our routines, the strength of our systems, we didn’t realize how much we relied on them until they were taken away. And, you know, there’s a mourning and a grieving process that comes with that, in addition to the abject horror that we’ve been dealing with, I mean, 600,000 of our citizens have died. I said this in another podcast recently, but our brains are really good at dealing with direct threats, right? If a bear burst into your living room right now, Debbie, you would freak out and you would do something about it. Our brains are not very good at dealing with diffuse horror. Right? And they paint what’s more diffuse than the invisible pandemic? So I mean, it’s, it’s been tough. And, you know, the nice thing I guess, about how I practice is I don’t pretend to have all the answers, right? I don’t think that would be fair, be disingenuous of me. So if nothing else, we have an hour a week to sit in a shared experience and say, this is hard. And we may not have the answers, but we can at least sit together with this and say it’s hard together.

Debbie Reber  06:29

And I’m wondering, in terms of, you know, we are going to be talking about suicide today suicidal ideation, kind of, generally speaking, what’s been going on with kids and adolescents? I mean, I’ve certainly read headlines and read a lot of articles about kids who have committed suicide, seemingly out of nowhere, you know, with no warnings, but what are you seeing in terms of suicide and kids in this Covid time?

Matt Zakreski  06:57

One of the things that a lot of cases of suicide end up sort of boiling down to is ruptured connection. Right. So I had a job that I loved, and I was fired from that job. I was in a relationship that I loved. And that relationship was taken for me, I got to go to a school that I love that I had friends. And when we think about ourselves as social creatures, you know, it makes us more vulnerable to ruptured connection, it becomes an idea of trying to seek out those connections in ways that feel helpful and supportive. And when we’re also busy, and we’re also overwhelmed, it’s easy to just say to anybody, right that kids included, you got to deal with it, you got to get over it. And to be clear, I’m not saying that, like, if we don’t connect immediately, something bad’s gonna happen. But what we’re saying is that we need to find connection. And when connections are taken from us, I’m fond of saying you can’t replace something with nothing. If connection is taken from someplace, we have to find connection somewhere else. Right? So if your kid can’t go to school because of a lockdown, well, then can we do you know, an online community? Can we take a class? Can we do video games, something right? Connection is what drives us. That’s been the biggest logistical, but also the biggest emotional hurdle over the last year and a half.

Debbie Reber  08:22

Yeah, that makes absolute sense. And especially for our neurodivergent kids who may be more fixed to certain routines and structures and also may have more tenuous social connection to start with…

Matt Zakreski  08:36

You hit the nail on the head, right, that neurodivergent community has two major aspects of it that make them more sensitive to these sorts of things, right? You know, more tenuous connections and more adherence to routine. And the last, you know, year and a half is really set those things on air.

Debbie Reber  08:54

I’m wondering if you could define for us suicidal ideation, because I know that there are probably many listeners who have kids who may say things in passing during a really bad day, or could you even just kind of explain what suicidal ideation is, as a concept.

Matt Zakreski  09:11

Suicidal ideation is a recurrent thought or desire of, of death. And I’m intentional with that language of death, because not all suicidal ideation is what we would consider active, right? A lot of times kids will report to me, it would just be easier if I was dead. If I went to sleep tonight and woke up in the morning, and didn’t wake up in the morning, my life would be better. Right? So this is what we call passive suicidal ideation. And then there are people who report that I drive by a bridge and I think wouldn’t it be great to drive my car off this bridge? The incidence of suicidal ideation is far more prevalent than we understand as broader society but also within the mental health community, and most recent data from 2018 says that 73% of adults had reported suicidal ideation in the last six months. And if you just think about those numbers, right, I mean, there’s no way that that is the rate of suicide in America. And thank heavens for that. Right. I mean, that’s, you know, that would be an entirely different pandemic. But what it is, is that these thoughts are normal. They’re scary. But what happens is that we don’t, people don’t have places to put them, they don’t have places to share them. So the mental health space has sort of become that holding ground for, hey, life is hard. And it is, if you’re feeling that overwhelmed, you know, let’s, let’s make some space for those feelings. Let’s talk that out. Right, let’s, and we think about kids with their brains that are less mature, right? That they have less infrastructure, they lose control over their own lives. If you and I are having a bad day. I mean, there’s nothing stopping us from going to the airport, buying a plane ticket and going to Rupa, you know, an eight year old can’t do that. So we need to think about what are the supports? And how do we give efficacy and independence to kids to gain some control over their own lives?

Debbie Reber  11:13

A couple things came up as you were answering that one is even you mentioned an eight year old. And so even before we go further, can we talk about the ages of what we’re seeing in kids, because I think there’s this idea that this is a team thing, but I don’t know that that’s the case.

Matt Zakreski  11:30

So what we’re going to talk about is in terms of sort of tears of this. So one of the things that kids and people sort of in general, but will focus on kids do is they use what we call replacement language. So the classic example of this is you have two siblings, they’re fighting and sibling says to me, I’ll kill you. Right. Now I have two younger sisters. I’ve certainly said that to them on occasion. We’re all in our 30s now, so not recently, so much. But you know, I tell you if they took my Legos one more time. But so if we responded to the content of that, you know, I mean, there’d be far more police calls for far more 911 calls. So it is not uncommon to hear kids and teens say stuff like kill yourself, or I wish I was dead. Right? Now, it’s important as adults who care about kids, and this is parents, mental health professionals, teachers, We respond to the content, we also respond to the process, right? When is this coming up? Does your kid say I wish I was dead every time they have a spelling test? Right? context matters a lot. How does that sentence make us feel? Right? Is it sort of like my kid is balling off steam? Or does a chill go up your spine, trusting our intuition, when it comes to responding to this language is really important. And then lastly, talking about what we call a call in psychology, the big three frequency, intensity and duration. Right? How often is this stuff being said, How intense is the language? And then how long do these feelings last? You know, if Sally has a shot to score the winning goal in soccer, and she hits the ball over the crossbar. And then after the game, she said I wish I was dead. I’m not saying that doesn’t hurt because obviously, I played soccer for 15 years, I’ve missed many, many, many, many, many shots. So we take those feelings seriously. But we try to put them in context. But if Sally six months from now is still saying I wish I was dead, my life is terrible. There’s nothing to live for. We’re bringing some serious alarm bells. Because the idea of frequency, intensity and duration really matter because the way we respond to our environment is a lasting effect over time.

Debbie Reber  13:58

I love that you talked about trusting intuition. And I also know that so many parents have a lot of fear around this. I mean, this is every parent’s worst nightmare. So what role does a parents fear play into this? And I don’t know if you have thoughts on how parents can kind of notice that as well.

Matt Zakreski  14:19

The big thing when it is with parents is creating that space for open and honest communication. Everything comes in at least in my perspective, everything comes back down to communication, how often we talk, how well we talk, the things we can talk about, right? This is a problem within the mental health community as well. Many practitioners because of insurance regulations and the threat of lawsuit, if they hear the word suicide, they call 911. They you know, they will involuntarily commit someone and it’s far more nuanced than that. I had a kid once in intake say, I’m not going to answer your question about suicide because you’re gonna send me to the hospital. And this it’s an interesting moment, right? Because it’s a challenge. But please help me. Right? I’m telling you, I have a feeling, I’m also telling you that I’m smart enough to know the rules. When we talk about that with our kids, it’s about holding space. And what I say to clients and intakes. And when it comes up it is my job, my number one job is to keep you safe, I’m never going to make a decision without talking to you. When feelings like that come up, it’s our job to think about all the options that are presented to us. Everything from yes, we need to go up to a hospital right now to maybe I need a day off from school. Right? And, like, you need to trust me as the adult in the room to know what those options are, and how to connect you to them. And I need to trust you, my child or children to tell me what’s going on in your, in your mind, but also in your heart. And because I can’t know that right? We’re not mind reader’s, we’re, we’re very good at what we do. But we’re not mind reader’s having that space for our kids. And saying, like, whatever comes up in this space, I’m not saying I have all the answers. But I’m saying that if you tell me we will sit with it until we can find someone who can get us the answers we need. And that’s a very powerful thing for your kids to know they have a person or people to talk to.

Debbie Reber  16:16

Yeah, I think a lot of parents are afraid to use the language, like they are afraid when talking with a child who may be feeling down or express that they’re depressed, but may not have explicitly used that word or settled on that kind of language. I know there are parents who don’t want to suggest something that their child might want to do. So can you talk about language? How can we speak about this? If it’s something we’re concerned about, and maybe bust the myth that us using that language is somehow going to result in that?

Matt Zakreski  16:49

Yes, let’s bust that myth. Right. So parents, if you take nothing else away from this conversation, please know that, that no one has ever placed the idea of suicide in somebody else’s head, that has never happened. Right. And your kids have certainly thought about it. They’ve certainly read about it, if they’re showing those markers. Right. So asking that question, it’s a release valve, not lighting a fuse. And it’s so important to understand that. And listen, I’m not gonna say these are easy conversations, because they’re not. I do this for a living. I’ve been doing this for let’s see…it’s 2021, 15 years now. And, you know, I mean, they’re still hard conversations. You know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve, you know, sobbed after a session like that. But I tell my kids, I would rather have a hard conversation, then I wish I had, right. One of the things I like to do a lot. And I think parents are using what we call meta communication, right? Talking about talking. So if this, if you’re worried about your kid, and you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re trying to gear yourself up for this kind of conversation, one of the things you can say is, hey, listen, I need to have a hard conversation with you. I’m scared, right? I’m worried about this, this is perhaps outside of my skill set or comfort zone. But I want you to know that because this conversation is so important. That’s why I’m still having it with you. What that does is it builds a box around the thing we’re saying, as opposed to just sort of kicking in the door to your kid’s room, like how are you okay? Right. Because when when we don’t give our kids context, they respond defensively, they shut down, let’s not try to have the perfect conversation, big air quotes, let’s you know, it can be messy, it can be sloppy, but there’s an authenticity to that, that our kids really respond to, I will often say to kids in session, this is hard, I’m worried for you, I’m scared for you, I I can see how much pain you’re in. And we’re going to figure this out together. Let’s not be afraid to get our hands dirty when it comes to these kinds of conversations.

Debbie Reber  19:00

And do you have any guidance for even you know, finding the words to use and, you know, again, this is outside of somebody’s parents comfort zones, they may get freaked out by what they hear, they may not know how to respond. We talk a lot about just validating and listening. They may worry about doing that too much that it’s going so I don’t know. And how do we kind of navigate that? And are there places you can see our parents to learn more about that.

Matt Zakreski  19:30

One of the things that we can do is acknowledge where our own comfort and skill levels and if you have this conversation with your children, and they are revealing things to suicidal ideation, deep levels of depression and you’re realizing very quickly, okay, so it’s great that we’re having this conversation because it’s way more important that we’re talking about it than if we’re not talking about it. So as long as we’re talking as long as we’re engaging, we’re okay. So this is where we talk about resources like The National Suicide Hotline, this is where we talk about mobile crisis. You know, most counties in the United States operate a mobile crisis unit that will come to your house and do an assessment. And this isn’t the proverbial guys in white coats, right? This is trained social workers who are here to determine if you’re safe. And other thing is, it’s not inappropriate to pull up this podcast, right to pull up a TED talk on there’s many TED talks on suicide, because we’ve established that you’re not going to put the idea in your kid’s head. But what you’re doing is you’re engaging with media that’s, that lays it out in ways that perhaps we don’t have, right, and we say, like, here are the resources that are available to us, you know, I’m, I’m checking myself, I know where I’m at where my skill level is. And I think this problem is bigger than my skill level. So I’m going to bring in someone who can help me, right? And to tell your kids like, that’s not because you’re broken, it’s not because I’m, I can’t handle you, it’s because this is a problem that is so important that I’m going to call all the people all the Avengers right? To my team here, because I’d rather have too many people here than not enough. That kind of humility, that kind of acknowledgement, that there’s a thing we can’t do for our kids is really scary. I was having a conversation like this a couple months ago with a parent who is a pretty big deal heart surgeon. And she was saying that her child has been sort of back and forth on suicidal ideation for a while, and it bothers her to know and that she can’t fix it, you know, she really dragged her feet on getting her therapy. And I pointed out that, like, if I had a problem with my kid’s heart, I would call her, right. Like, you’re the person I’m going to call for this. And it’s okay to have a specialist outside of your own skill set. For a big problem. You know, I, I wouldn’t know at all how to fix a broken leg. I wouldn’t know how to fix an arrhythmia. But if your kid has suicidal thoughts, you know, I’m a person you could talk to. Debbie, having listened to many of these episodes of No, I know, one of the themes is that parents can’t be all things to everybody all the time. Right. And so part of that is saying I can have, so I can have a percentage of this conversation, and then then do a warm handoff, pass the baton to somebody else who can take it the rest of the way.

Debbie Reber  22:25

Yeah, I love that. I do want to talk about kids who move beyond suicidal ideation, that the event that we were discussing, before I hit record, you did I think was with the New Jersey Gifted Association. And you had some young adults on who had previously attempted suicide, and they share their stories. So vulnerably. And what a gift for all the listeners to get a glimpse inside their thinking. And really surprising to me what I learned from listening to them. So can you talk a little bit about some of the reasons why kids move past ideation to an attempt?

Matt Zakreski  23:07

So there are, of course, no one size fits all right. But one of the things that we talk about a lot in these moments is the problem is, is either not getting better, or it’s escalated in some way. Oftentimes, when we hear about suicides in relation to bullying in school, you know, Kid X is teased and mocked, right, and sort of said, hit a baseline that is very unpleasant, and that baseline has led to depression, anxiety, and then something happens to ramp it up a notch. Right. And that’s where we see kids move from ideation to attempt, right? big life changes are often also a triggering moment, right? Divorce moving, changing schools, especially if you’re changing schools for a reason, that was maybe not your choice. And it’s the sort of thing that the more we know about these things that serve as triggers and context around the escalation of suicide, suicidality. It enables us as parents and caregivers to be a little bit more proactive and not say, hey, when we change schools, you might want to die. But you can say things like, this is going to be really hard. And I want to check in with you and keep checking in with you about your thoughts and feelings and know that no matter how hard this gets, we’ll get through it together. And really sort of putting that those ideas out there that acknowledging that this is hard, because so many kids report in suicide notes or you know, if they survive in the attempt, and they say, I felt like I had to handle it on my own. I felt like I was alone. I remember we came back before a ruptured connection. Right? So building a framework to someone to talk to and saying that this isn’t contingent right? I’m here for you and for eating chicken nuggets and watching America’s Got Talent, and I’m here for you if you’re saying that you have been really thinking about ending your life, because that is a universal thing. Right? I am here for you regardless. And it’s hard, it’s hard to show up like that. One other thing when it comes to an escalation of suicidality is the broader research shows that sometimes kids will make one attempt towards connection, right? They’ll reach out to a counselor, they’ll reach out to a friend, they’ll reach out to sometimes parents sometimes teacher, and looking back, right, when we do the sort of the post mortem, people say, oh, gosh, that was their, that was their attempt to to reach out and build connection. And I don’t share this with this audience to scare anybody, like, you know, if we don’t respond to everything all the time, what are we missing? Our lives are hard enough as it is. The idea here is we take every opportunity to connect when we can. And we say, Hey, these are things that are hard. These are things that are scary. And don’t be afraid to say to your kid, you look overwhelmed, you look wrung out, you look tired and scared and sad. You don’t feel like yourself. Because once again, we’re not putting those ideas in their head, those ideas are already there. You know, so it might just be the key that unlocks the door, it is better to ask the question than not ask it.

Debbie Reber  26:32

The word hopelessness popped up in my mind. And because I know that, you know, that is something obviously if you feel hopeless, that is going to be creating the foundation or reason for you to to do an attempt or to be thinking about this. And I just wonder, is this an intense time in the world? I mean, it just feels like one continuous, you know, you know what show we don’t swear on this podcast, but you know what I’m saying? I’m just wondering, how do we hold the space for that? How do we acknowledge what’s hard while not contributing to the sense of hopelessness?

Matt Zakreski  27:13

Yeah, well, if we solve this, you and I will write a best selling book and tour the world. The research on this, it comes back to three words, you mentioned hopelessness. The other two are helplessness and worthlessness. So there is no hope no one can help me and I’m not worth saving in the first place. A lot of times, you know, as a way to normalize these conversations as a way to have these hard conversations. I often will check in with kids in therapy, say like, okay, hopelessness, scale, one to 10 of 10. So most hopeless, where are you? I’m at an eight. Okay, you’re at an eight today. Right? Yeah, helpless. Oh, I’m at a 10 today and help us. I’m totally feeling helpless today. Right. So we just it’s those markers, it’s a check in right. And then a fun technique on fun is probably the wrong word. A good technique to use is, is to say to a kid, like if they’re at a 10, eight on the hopelessness scale, right? Our instinct as parents is to say things like, Okay, well, here, well, how can we get you out of seven? How can we get you out of five, like how we can move you down? But often, that actually can make kids think about the reasons why they feel worse. So it can be helpful to say, Okay, you’re an eight. So what, why aren’t you at a nine? Why aren’t you at a 10? Right? What’s keeping you in the eight zone? And we call this defending the negative, right? The idea here is that it forces people to think about the reasons why they’re not more suicidal. And that’s it’s kind of a paradoxical approach to it. But the idea here is that it can be something that might stoke whatever embers are in there and say, like, oh, well, I feel pretty hopeless. But you know, I mean, I did have a really good game of Roblox today. Oh, tell me about the game of robots, right. And then we’re now talking about this, right? We keep those scales of hopeless, helpless and worthless in our minds. And, you know, and we have those kinds of hard conversations.

Debbie Reber  29:07

Yeah, I love, defending that negative. I’ve never heard of that before. And it just makes so much sense. It’s a way of reframing… super interesting. I want to kind of wrap up and I’m sure there are a lot of things that I should have asked that I haven’t but I guess I just would love to hear, for parents who are concerned about their kids. I mean, you mentioned some good resources. But you know, in this moment, like right after they’re done listening to this, and what do you want to make sure that they feel empowered to do or that they they hold on to as they navigate this journey?

Matt Zakreski  29:42

I love the idea of empowering because this is such a disempowering process, right? I mean, so the first thing is, we’re going to say you didn’t fail your kit. And I’m going to actually say that again, because I think it’s really important. Suicidal ideation does not mean you failed your child. All that means is that life is hard. And life feels harder than the kids can handle right now. And sometimes that’s because the feelings are bigger than they can cope with. We see this a lot in our neurodivergent kids, right, you know, a nine year old who is catastrophically afraid of global warming. I mean, aren’t we all but those are bigger feelings that a nine year old can handle. And sometimes those feelings are very personal, right? I mean, issues of abuse, issues of bullying, issues of sexual assault, I mean, those, there’s a very personal, very immediate, right. And we as parents tend to center ourselves in our kids’ pain, we tend to say like if I had or if I hadn’t, right. And that kind of future telling only hurts us and it lowers our ability to help our kids. But the classic example, right is if you put your kid in the car and drive them to school this morning, and you get rear ended by a bus. It’s easy. Well, I shouldn’t have driven my kid to school today. Why? Like, like, obviously, if you had known you were going to get hit by a bus, you wouldn’t have driven that way. But what reasonable person would have made that connection? Right? That’s not, that’s not possible. You know, I shouldn’t have sent them to this school, I shouldn’t have had them do scouts, I shouldn’t have had them XYZ. Should is a word that gives us shame and pain for the things we didn’t do. Right, I would say could could is a better word than should, we could have sent our kids to another school, we could have gotten mental health support sooner. But when you have the word should you’re beating yourself up for things that didn’t happen for whatever reason, you could have had good intentions or bad intentions. It doesn’t really matter, honestly, I think that for so many of us, you know, we send ourselves, we blame ourselves, we beat ourselves up. And listen, we’re human beings, there’s always going to be that pain that comes. But if you say that right now, my kid is saying that they need me. And they are saying that they need me in a very overt way. That’s what’s most important, right? Now, they’ll come time to rake ourselves over the coals. And, you know, we certainly will. But the idea here is that the emergence of any mental health problem from ADHD to autism to suicidal ideation is about the child and their fit with their environment, is not necessarily our fault as parents, so we need to step out of our own heads into the space where our kids need us to be.

Debbie Reber  32:44

I really appreciate that reminder, and I’m wondering if we can just take it one step further, just for parents, who have kids who are dealing with this may feel themselves, you know, hopeless and helpless and unworthy. And I don’t know if your work involves supporting parents as well. But how can parents take care of themselves if they’re parenting a suicidal teenager or child?

Matt Zakreski  33:11

Some of it is the old line that, you know, we shall meditate five minutes a day, unless we’re too busy, then we should meditate for an hour. Right? So you may feel like I don’t possibly have time to see my own therapist, or go to a support group, make time. It’s watch one fewer episode of Netflix, go to bed in a half hour later, whatever that thing might be. But it is not just beneficial, it is vital, we cannot pour from an empty cup. And what ends up happening is that you may find through your own support a problem that you have with yourself that may be sapping your ability to show up and respond. But also you may find tips and techniques that help out with getting that extra sense of support. You know, it might be something as a phrase, right, a key phrase that you hadn’t heard before. Or maybe it’s the empowerment to hey, if you have this hard conversation, it goes terribly. Your therapist says Call me right. And then we’ll process it together, you’re not alone. You know, and there are so many support groups out there for parents of suicidal kids, teens, parents of neurodivergent teens, that stuff is out there and it is not inappropriate to ask your kids therapist for a session to do feedback, right to to voice your concerns, right. So, I would encourage you to ask for those things. And you know, and then we have you know, I have this, this resource that we created for the New Jersey gifted Association talk that I will have to share with you Debbie so we can share to the listeners so we can get those words those resources and words out there because you know, we I want you to have something tangible for this. This is a big deal, right? The idea here is that you have to do something to support yourself. And it is okay to want that. And it’s okay to need that. If those feelings come up and you have that result in guilt, like how dare I get my nails done today because my kid is in the hospital? Well, if getting your nails done brings some joy to your soul. We should always be seeking joy. Right. And I think that’s a good thing to remind ourselves.

Debbie Reber  35:31

Thank you, that is so helpful. So before we say goodbye, I would love it if you could share where listeners can learn more about you and reach out to you if they want to. I’m not sure if you’re on social media. But if you are, please let us know where and then if there if there is anything that we didn’t touch upon today that you want to make sure he said,

Matt Zakreski  35:52

I’m on social media, Facebook is And then my website is The thing that when I think about connection, right around these, these sort of things, reach out to me. And let’s, let’s book a talk, let’s book a, you know, a community meeting, let’s get some people involved, right? Because suicide, in particular, within the mental health world grows in silence, right? I mean, this, it’s become such a stigmatized thing, that we can’t talk about it. So we don’t talk about it. But then there comes those ruptured connections again, right. So when we normalize these conversations, when we bring this stuff out there, you know, we did a blind poll, and then usually gifted thing, and, and over 80% of the respondents in our talk, had had said that they they had been personally touched by suicide in their lives. And we left it a little vague, a little open ended. But I mean, that’s a super high number. I think that having these conversations, listening to these podcasts, right allows us to, to bring this pain out of the darkness. And when things come out of the darkness, we have the space and time to heal them. You know, hopefully listening to this is the first step in your own journey to seeking help for yourself seeking help for your kids. And, and I honor that, and I applaud you because this is not easy. And I cannot tell you how brave you are for even taking this step. So bravo.

Debbie Reber  37:31

Thank you what a lovely note to end this on… thank you so much. Such an important conversation, powerful conversation. I just so appreciate everything that you shared with us today.

Matt Zakreski  37:41

Like I said, I appreciate the platform. I mean, this is you and I took a step today towards bringing it out of the darkness as well. I mean, like, how could you imagine that this is even a thing that we could talk about, but here we are 40 some odd minutes in and we’re still rocking and rolling. So thank you, Debbie for bringing me in and bringing this to your incredible listeners.

Debbie Reber  38:02

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