Trigger warning: This story addresses suicide and the deaths of children and youth.
Tik Tok personality Dazharia Shaffer, known as Dee on the social media platform, where she had 1.4 million followers, died on Tuesday. She was 18 years old. Shaffer’s father, Joseph Santiago, shared a video montage of his daughter over the years on Wednesday and wrote:
“I just want to thank everyone for their love and support of my daughter. Unfortunately she is no longer with us and has gone to a better place.
He first announced Shaffer’s death on a GoFund me page, on Tuesday:
“On February 8th, my daughter Dazharia has left us early and have been call up to fly with the angels. She was my little best friend and I wasn’t prepared in no way, to bury my child. She was so happy, and would be so excited to see me when I come home from being on the road. [sic]”
In the post, he indicated that the cause of death was suicide:
“I only wish she would have spoken to me about her stress and the thoughts of suicide. We could work thru this. I only want to hold you again my little jelly bean. [sic]”
The social media influencer’s mother, Jennifer Shaffer, expressed grief in a Facebook post:
“I’m so heartbroken,” she wrote on Tuesday. “I really can’t believe you’re going. I wish I was waiting on you to say it was a prank but its not i wishing could have died instead of u ...rip my angel. [sic]”
Many of Dazharia’s followers have commented that they didn’t notice signs that she was feeling suicidal from her social media posts.
“Depression is real sis but I never in a million years thought she was suffering from that. In her videos she always seem like she had everything together,” commented one follower on Jennifer Shaffer’s Facebook post about Dazharia’s death.
Another wrote on Dazharia’s final Instagram post, from Jan. 23, “Rip beautiful..😢💔I feel so confused on how this could happen to you.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, aged 10-24, in North America. It is not always easy ― or even possible ― to spot the warning signs or to know how best to talk to and support a child or youth experiencing a mental health crisis. The following advice can help parents and caregivers understand more about pediatric mental health and suicidality.
Child and youth mental-health concerns are on the rise, particularly during the pandemic
A national study from the Canadian Mental Health Association reported in June that since the pandemic began, mental-health challenges have been amplified. The rate of people with existing mental-health concerns who self-reported as having had suicidal thoughts rose from 4 to 18 per cent. One in four parents also reported that their children’s mental health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic.
Signs a young person may be thinking about suicide
It is not always evident a child or teen is thinking about suicide, especially in these times when many young people work hard to create a polished, social-media version of their life.
The short video below, created by Kids Help Phone, indicates some of the signs to look for:
If a child or teen is telling jokes about taking their life, obsessing over death, withdrawing from regular activities, showing they don’t care what happens to them or suggesting other people don’t care about them either, those red flags need to be taken seriously.
A first step would be to see your family doctor or your child’s paediatrician. If a child is talking about suicide or has a plan, including details such as how they would take their life, they are in crisis and should be taken to get help immediately. “If you think they are in immediate danger, call 911 or the emergency services,” Kids Help Phone advises in the video.
How to help a child who is waiting for mental health services
Ottawa charity Preventing Suicide has advice and online resources for parents and caregivers on how to help a child or teen who is not considered in crisis but is struggling with mental-health challenges and on a waiting list for services ― unfortunately common across Canada, unless a family has the means to access private counselling. Detailed advice can be found here.
Key tips include:
- Asking for the young person to be put on a cancellation list, with the goal of having them seen earlier.
- Keeping the family doctor in the loop about any changes in the severity of your child’s symptoms.
- Asking for “wait-list supports,” such as reading material, support groups and public information sessions.
What to say to a young person showing signs of mental distress
It’s not easy for many parents and caregivers to know what to say, if they suspect a child or teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Some wonder if talking about suicide will give the young person the idea to take this path, but this is not the case.
U.S.-based Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers an excellent resource to guide grown-ups having these conversations. The full downloadable document can be found here.
Below is an excerpt, with clear guidelines on how to have this difficult conversation and respond to signs of mental distress:
- Remain calm, take a deep breath and do not react emotionally. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable.
- Be patient and speak in a relaxed, reassuring tone.
- Tell them you care and acknowledge that they are hurting.
- Be direct about your concerns: State the specific changes you see in the person’s mood and/or behaviour.
- Ask if them if they are thinking about suicide or have tried to kill themselves.
- Get professional help.
- Never leave them alone if they are showing warning signs of suicide.
Are you or is someone you know in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit CAMH’s resource to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you’re worried about.
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