Growing up has always been arduous, and dangers to our young have always been with us.
But the perils are more numerous and close-at-hand than ever, and often seductively subtle. The omnipresence and isolation of technology. The vacuousness of consumerism. The inevitable bully, who used to just lurk at school but now shadows you online. The manic pace of life. All manner of depravity, delivered right to your home or hand. Untreated mental illness. The arid void of meaning in an increasingly secular society. Drug and human trafficking.
One study found a rise in depression and suicides concurrent with the advent of smart phones — and that five hours or more of phone use a day leads to a 71 percent increase in at least one risk factor, regardless of what the content being consumed is. Another study found a spike in teen suicides after the release of suicide-themed Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.”
Our young increasingly have unfettered access to adult anxiety without the age and experience to handle it or the hard-won wisdom to seek help.
Little wonder suicides and attempts have risen in recent years. As reported by The Star-Telegram’s Domingo Ramirez Jr. Sunday, just over 12 percent of Texas high-schoolers reported an attempt in 2017 — and 10.6 percent in Fort Worth — compared to the national average of 7.4 percent, according to the Texas High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
On rare occasions authorities are able to intervene. Mansfield police officers were able to grab onto a 19-year-old sitting on the ledge of a bridge last February. In Arlington just last month, an officer in an eerily similar situation ingeniously directed a tractor-trailer beneath the youth for him to land on, which he did.
But for the most part, it’s up to parents and other loved ones to be involved, observant and attentive to the classic risk factors — which include depression; withdrawal; big swings in mood or routine; exposure to violence and abuse; substance use; slipping grades; feelings of loss; mentions of self-harm; and signs of unusual conflict.
With such varying causes, it’s a good idea to seek professional help and tailored treatment.
“It’s important to just remember that everybody is different,” Fort Worth’s Rachel Blackmon, a survivor of her father’s 2015 suicide and board member of Mental Health America of Greater Tarrant County, told Ramirez.
It’s vital how society even approaches this topic, as the Netflix show illustrates. But no less than the Mayo Clinic advises parents not to shy away from broaching it. “Talking about suicide won’t plant ideas in your teen’s head,” the clinic writes.
Setting limits on smart phones and other technology is also a good idea. Healthy human interaction is an elixir for much of what ails us. And something as basic as good eating, sleeping and exercise habits can be a preventative, the Mayo Clinic says.
No one should ever minimize the angst of adolescence. It may be harder to navigate now than at anytime in history. But the young often don’t realize how fleeting almost everything is, including despair. And great meaning is all around us — even in our various struggles.
Like those officers who prevent someone’s fall or simply cushion it, we can be there for those around us coping with an unseen burden.