“In school, there were always lessons about alcohol, drugs, and safe sex — but never once was depression or suicide mentioned. If the adults in my life had been educated in these topics, maybe I would have felt comfortable asking for help, and I might have been spared years of suffering,” says a student who wrote on a suicide prevention website.
September brings a new school year, homework, and new friends. It also brings National Suicide Prevention Month, a subject that may frighten and seem foreign to many. Parents oftentimes have the attitude “not my child” and may attribute sadness, anger, and moodiness to the woes of being young. “It’s just hormones,” they may say. The truth is that suicide can happen to any child in any family at any time — and it crosses economic lines.
While it can be difficult to differentiate between the normal “blues” of teenagers (or younger) versus more serious struggles, there are warning signs:
· Extreme periods of anger or hostility
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· Unusual sadness
· Disrespectful attitude toward others
· Overly excited about a new friend group
· Less communication with family
· Consistently lying
· Changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
· Grades dropping
· Loss of interest in activities that once were enjoyed
Parents may notice unusual behavior, but fear that by even mentioning suicide, they might be placing the idea in their child’s mind.
“Contrary to myth, talking about suicide cannot plant the idea in someone’s head. Rather, it can open up communication about a topic that is often taboo,” says the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS). Talking about it is the first step toward prevention. Parents talk to their children about other risky behavior — suicide should be no different.
“It is always acceptable to approach teens to discuss their welfare. If they are showing symptoms related to taking their life, the parent should be direct, ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?’ This lets the child know that the parent understands and wants to help,” says Jennifer Fleming, director of Guidance and Counseling at Keller ISD.
Timing of such a discussion is key and the choice of words is important. Parents should not make the mistake of thinking, “He just wants attention.” Additionally, the parent should empathize, “You must be feeling really bad” not “You shouldn’t say such things.”
“By talking about the issues associated with suicide, and reaching out to those who need it, we can take a step towards prevention and saving lives,” says Cindy Parsons, director of Health Services at Keller ISD.
“The Keller school district has training sessions twice a year called Mental Health First Aid. It educates parents on how to identify the signs of mental illness such as anxiety and depression, and what steps to take to assist their child,” Fleming says. “When the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why first aired (a show about a high school girl who committed suicide), students throughout the district were discussing. We sent a letter to parents and community leaders explaining the show. Additionally, Keller Guidance and Counseling will host a Facebook live event in September, focusing on suicide prevention.”
Parents should also be aware of a new online game called the “Blue Whale Challenge” in which a player is assigned a series of challenges that are to be completed over a period of time. The challenges are innocuous at first, but become increasingly more dangerous. The end of the game challenges the individual to commit suicide. Fleming says Keller ISD held meetings to warn parents about the game.
Cyberbullying can occur with any electronic devise, including cell phones, computers, and tablets. James Intia, Community Relations Officer with the Keller Police Department, holds awareness meetings at the request of the school district. "Cyberbullying includes making fun of others on Facebook, or other social media sites. Even sharing someone’s post can be considered cyberbullying.”
He tells parents to be aware if their child is spending less time on the computer, as that could be a sign of escaping cyberbullying. Also be aware if they delete their accounts, or if they inquire how to block a person. Intia says parents should ask for passwords.
“When I speak to kids, I always tell them they are not alone. There is always someone who will listen. Many times, students have come to me after I speak to say they learned something they didn’t know,” he added.
The teenage years certainly bring multiple sources of additional stress and expectations. Youngsters can experience peer pressure, academic pressure, parental and family relations, problems with body image, low self-esteem — all of which can lead them to be victims of cyberbullying. “The literature regarding bullying and self-esteem consistently finds that victims of bullying tend to have lower self-esteem than non-victims …“A good amount of research in the past has linked low self-esteem to poorer academic achievement, absenteeism, health problems, criminal behavior, and a number of other consequences. The fact that cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem should motivate us to do all we can to prevent it, and hopefully preempt these other negative outcomes.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk, an event aimed at raising awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is scheduled at 9 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2017, at the Waterside development on Bryant Irvin Road at Arborlawn in Fort Worth. More than 200 people from throughout the area are expected to participate. Proceeds from this event go toward research, educational programs, and support for survivors of suicide loss. “These walks are about turning hope into action,” says AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia. “Suicide is a serious problem, but it’s a problem we can solve.”
While this article focuses on teenagers, younger children and adults are not immune. Many of the same warning signs apply. Suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that appears to be unsolvable by any other means. Those at risk need to understand that there are other solutions, and that help is available.
“Your mind’s a dangerous neighborhood. Don’t go there alone,” says a college student who once suffered from thoughts of suicide.
Links and numbers to know:
• Suicide Prevention 1-800-273-TALK
• Crisis Text by texting TALK to 741-741
• My3app.org for an Android or Apple phone
Tips for the talk
• Choose a time when the child is attentive, such as during a car ride
• Consider your words carefully before hand
• Have a reference point such as a recent article you read
• Admit to the child it is a hard subject to discuss
• Ask for a response — and listen
• Don’t overreact or under react