Teen Suicide – Why Our Town?

Parents, you MATTER

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Restore the Broken

13 yr old girl kills herself.  Until this, most of her middle school peers had never even heard the word “suicide”.  (Multiple clients of mine who are this age, mentioned they learned what suicide was from the news about this young girl).

A few weeks prior, a high school dropout passes away but very few people attended the funeral.  Most of the old classmates didn’t even knew who this person was… I wonder why they felt alone…

A month later, a student shoots himself in the bus loop one school morning, filled with depression and a sadness so deep, he wanted others to recognize that depresssion is real.  Mental illness is REAL.  Same day, another child commits suicide.  A few weeks later, another student breaks in and attempts suicide by Isolated teentaking pills from the nurse’s clinic at their school.  The public knows about 4, then 6, possibly 8 now?  But, I personally, know of many more.  How many are there really?  Does the number matter?  All in the same town – all in the same community that I call home – that I chose to raise my children in.

SUICIDE — WHY OUR TOWN??

Because the truth is, suicide happens much more frequently than the public knows about.  Being an LMFT counselor, working in the school system, with the foster care system, and the juvenile justice system, I can assure you this is not new.  This is not isolated to just big cities.  It happens everywhere.  BUT, kids are speaking out now.  In HUGE devastating permanent ways, they are speaking out.

Suicide Text Hotline

Many of the teens I work with or who come in for therapy after suicide attempts, all mention very similar thoughts:  “I get it.  Know one cares about me.  But, maybe if I can help someone else, then my life would have meant something.    I have no reason to live or go on in this hellhole, so maybe my death will get other parents to wake up and realize their kids need help.  I just want peace and to feel better.  Everyone keeps saying they (those who have committed suicide) are at peace now and aren’t having to face demons anymore.  I want that peace too.”

You may be reading this and thinking, “Wow – what a sick way or wrong way of thinking”.  It makes sense to them.  Under all the depression, they are still kids who are searching for love and acceptance.  They want others to feel loved and accepted.  20 yrs, I have worked with, studied, lived amongst, and wrapped my life around teenagers.  EVERY teen has these thoughts at one point or another, “I can’t go on like this.  I just want to crawl in a hole and die.  I want to go to sleep and not wake up.”  NOT every teen is suicidal and most do want to wake up after a terrible day.  But, these are fleeting thoughts that creep in after a bad breakup, an embarrassing moment at school, failing a class, being disappointed by crappy parenting, even not making a school drama or the football team.

DreamsFulfill Needs  Most parents want to believe that this type of talk is just for the moment.  They’ve given their child everything – a home, nice things, love, family.  Sometimes, love and caring is not enough.  Depression can be genetic or medically based.  Suicide doesn’t occur to just unhappy and lonely teens.  Suicide is the result of untreated depression.  If your child has depression, it is not enough.  They need a professional to help them cope, help them understand their thoughts, their feelings, why they are depressed and how to overcome it.  How can a parent decide if their child is having a bad day or if they are more depressed than they realize?  As a parent, you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on your teen’s phone, on their sports, on their hobbies.  The $140-300 it costs to get a mental health assessment or evaluation done by a local mental health professional is WORTH YOUR CHILD’S LIFE.  A marriage & family therapist or mental health counselor will be able to help decipher the difference.  They will come alongside you as a parent to give you the tools to recognize when your child is not dealing well with the day-to-day disappointments and when they may be clinically depressed.

I want to share 4 HUGE things that parents can do RIGHT NOW to help reduce the risk of suicide and help you to reduce the risks of your teen falling into a major depression episode:

4 Things To Remember, Apart From What Society Says:

1. No matter how abusive/neglectful/loving, parents are STILL the #1 influencer in teens 14-18 yrs old. Teens will rarely admit that in person. But their behaviors & attitudes show it quite often.  In therapy, one oTeen girl driving with momf the most common  topics   of   conversation and healing is about their parents.  YOU MATTER, mom and dad!  Continue to make time for them, pull them out of their rooms to hang out with you.  They will pout, they will act disgusted or mad at you.  But, they WANT YOU to do this!

2. I’ve worked with teens for over 20 yrs. More recently, most of the issues parents bring their teens in for therapy is phone-related (porn, cyberbullying, suicidal talk, etc). About 90% secretly admit they are relieved their parents took away their phones (they are visibly relaxed also)…. but will rarely admit this in front of their parents. They truly do need mandated breaks.  Keep their phones charging in your room after a certain hour at night.  Know your teens’ passwords OR have a parental control app on it, like  Secure Teen  or Phone Sheriff  or  MM Guardian.

3. No matter how old/responsible/mature a teen is, they shouldn’t be left home alone for too many hours, too many days a week. Isolation & social media breed depression & anxiety.  The #1 root cause for depression and anxiety that is not genetically based, is COMPARISON.  Isolation will push teens inward & it is inticing to jump on the internet and social media.  They begin to compare what they don’t have, to a public false front that others portray that may/may not even be true.  Humans are social creatures.  So, even if your teen is shy or introverted, they need to interact with other people face-to-face, whether that is with you, a few close friends, or making sure they are involved in a youth group or a group with common interests (clubs at school, sports teams, etc).

4.  Teens need to believe in a Higher Power.  We often find comfort in knowing there is someone or something bigger than us.  For me, that is believing in Jesus Christ, the son    God as Higher Power of the LIVING God.  Regardless of what you believe, research shows that teens who believe in a higher power are less likely to commit suicide.  There is HOPE when we believe there is a future, that someone always does care, is always with us and loves us at our worst.  The Holy Scriptures mention time and time again, that God will always be there.  Deuteronomy 31 6, 8 say, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you….   And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”

The truth is:  we WILL fail our children at some point or another, we will NOT always be with them, and we WILL make them feel badly about themselves, even if it’s unintentional.  When this happens, we must teach our children and teens that they have Someone with whom they can always depend on and that God created them special and that they have a purpose here on Earth.

So, why is suicide hitting our town in a very public manner?  Because it is our wake up call.  There is a problem that we need to face, and often times, tragedy reminds us what is most important:  Loving Our Children To LIFE.

Teen boy w Dad

 

Debunking the Myth of Therapy

we-take-our-kids-for-physical-vaccinations-dental-exams-eye-checkups-when-do-we-think-to-take-our-our-son-or-daughter-for-a-mental-health-checkup-gordon-smith-338x500

I’ve often wondered why it’s so hard for us to see the importance of getting a mental health checkup.  Our brain and our mind are THE MOST IMPORTANT things for us to be alive.  To feel alive.  Our mind tells us when/where/why/how we do things.  Little daily things like, “Wake up” or “I’m Hungry”.  Mediocre things like, “I need to say hi to my boss when I see him this morning.” or “Remember to give the kids their field trip money”.  Major things like, “Call Susie and tell her you love her before she flies out tonight” or “I am not going to let this affect me the rest of my life”.

So, what keeps people from finding a personal marriage and family therapist or mental health counselor to help them with their goals & finding solutions, just like they go to their dentist to keep their teeth clean and healthy?

1.  I’m fine.  I have a good family.  I was raised in a good environment.  I’m an adult and should know how to fix my problems by now.  These things may all be true.  Some problems can be taken care of by exercising, eating right, and having a support system; much like we can take care of basic first aid, such as a bee sting, a minor cut, or a burn from the stove.  But, what if you’ve done everything you and your family/friends know to do, and your 3 yr old is STILL not sleeping through the night or you’ve read every marriage book out there and you and your husband are still arguing about the same issues and you’re both about to just give up?    Just like a good mother would take her child to the doctor if that cut becomes infected, a committed wife should seek out a marriage therapist to keep her family from being destroyed by unspoken issues.

2.  If I admit I’m having problems, people will think I’m weak or that I’m crazy.  It would be strange to think of someone who has cancer as being crazy because they undergo chemotherapy or to look down upon a parent because he/she takes their child to get braces on their teeth.  When we have problems with coughing and breathing, we go to a doctor to see if it’s bronchitis.  Because we have to deal with people who are of different cultures, different backgrounds, and different socio-economic statuses at our jobs and in our schools, we WILL have problems with people and within ourselves from time-to-time.  We can save ourselves a lot of time and heartache if we go directly to someone who can help us sort through those frustrations and misunderstandings before we lose relationships, friendships, and our own children.

3.  Most anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders have a biological component and can just be treated by my primary doctor.  Nothing is more frustrating than going from doctor to doctor, and then specialist after specialist, only to find that there is nothing “wrong” with you and yet, you are still having physical ailments, infertility problems, or weight issues.    Mental health problems are not caused by solely bad genes or a biological chemical imbalance, according to the research we have to date.  Most medications (with a few notable exceptions, such as those prescribed for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) prescribed for mental disorders should be taken for short-term (under a year) symptom relief. **It is important to note that it was never meant for a person to be on psycho-tropic meds such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety pills forever.  They are only to help stabilize your moods, until you work with a trained professional such as a marriage & family therapist, mental health counselor, or psychologist to learn coping skills and how to handle what life gives to you individually.

In fact, many physical ailments, such as diabetes, gastro-intestinal problems, infertility, migraines, high blood pressure, joint pains, are caused by anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder.  Our minds are THAT POWERFUL!!!  We MUST learn to listen to our bodies.  If we are continuously getting sick, our bodies may be telling us it’s time to sit with a therapist or counselor to get to the root issues that we are unaware of.  Just like psycho-tropic meds only serve a temporary purpose, other medical treatments only resolve surface symptoms, while the root cause of your physical ailments remains untreated until you seek out mental health treatment.

4.  Mental health disorders are labels that are life-long and difficult to treat.  Just like the flu comes and goes or cancer can go into remission, mental health disorders are very similar.  Parenting stress comes and goes.  Anxiety comes and goes.  Depression comes and goes, as difficult times in life occur (a death of a loved one, loss of a job, children leaving for college), but it does NOT have to last forever.  There are many types of mental health treatments that are short-term, often in as little as 6-12 weeks, depending on the nature of the issue.  Even major mental health disorders can be treated in 6-12 months, instead of years.  **It is important, however, to remain active in quarterly, or bi-annual mental health checkups, so a crisis doesn’t occur.

5.  If I seek out a Marriage and Family Therapist to help me with my children, then I must not know what I’m doing as a mother or father.  There are many, many parents and friends who claim to be experts in potty training, disciplining, and building bonds with children.  The problem is that each child and each family is so uniquely different.  There are thousands of different techniques and tools on how to communicate, how to have a healthy argument, or how to raise children.  On top of this, our society is changing at lightening fast rate and books and family traditions often cannot keep up with the new trends in pornography, sexuality, etc.  A therapist or counselor has been uniquely trained for a minimum of 6 years, had over 3,000 clinical hours of working solely with children, parents, and couples supervision and post-master’s supervision to learn how to recognize how individuals interact with each other and impact each other.

By reading this, it lets me know that you’ve thought that counseling might be of benefit to someone, maybe even for you or your family.  It doesn’t hurt to try it out and see all the benefits there are to having regular mental health checkups with your personal therapist.

 

 

 

 

Self-Care in the Midst of a Tragedy

 

Up and coming singer killed and killer commits suicide. —   49 young people who are enjoying their lives in a common “safe” environment lose their lives in a horrific way, among 50+ people in critical care at a local Orlando hospital. —   A 2 year old enjoying the magic of Disney with his family is dragged into a “safer” man-made lake by an alligator and drowns.

We read these headlines.  If we live within the vicinity of Orlando, we SEE the terror, the unrest, and our joy being stripped from ourselves and others close to us.  If we are not careful, we can easily experience secondary trauma and have panic attacks wondering, “When will it happen to me?”

More than at any other time, self-care is extremely important during a time of a major tragedy, especially if you secondary witness it thru the news, social media, or friends of friends who have family members who have been lost.

Here are 6 tips to post on your mirror to keep in mind during the next few months to a year after a horrific tragedy occurs:

  1. Stop, Breathe, Know That Somehow, Some Way, You Will Get Through This.  When an unexpected crisis occurs, life as we knew it is forever changed.  A new way of life will transpire, not just for yourself, but also for your neighbor, and your local community.  Stay in contact with others, as you are not alone.  There is someone at work, your church, next door, at your child’s school, that is also learning to face a “new normal”.  
  2. Grief Is To Be Expected.  Multiple mixed feelings will flood and sometimes overwhelm you.  You may feel agonizing pain, sheer shock & denial, overwhelming joy to see your community join together, anger (both at the cause and at others who couldn’t stop it), and sense of urgency to protect your immediate family.  By recognizing why you have these emotions and begin to accept them, you will feel more in control and less panic or hopelessness.  Put yourself in the midst of people you trust and feel comfortable sharing these emotions with.  Support can come from a hug, sharing stories, tears, or spiritual guidance.
  3. Maintain Your Usual Routine, While Allowing Some Time to Grieve.  It is VERY IMPORTANT to do BOTH of these.  This is especially important for our amazing First Responders and Medical Staff.  They are equipped and trained to maintain their usual routine in order to help in a crisis situation, but often are not told they also need to find time to grieve the loss of lives.  For the rest of us, it is of utmost importance for us to turn off the news & social media and continue to live a life as close to what used to be our usual routine.  Our minds can only handle so much of a crisis and we need a sense of stability that our usual routine can afford us.  Then, add some time in our day when are most at peace (morning, afternoon, or night) to allow our emotions to flood our minds, so that they are safely contained to a specific time and do not control us.
  4. Be Sensitive and Patient With Yourself.  Let’s be honest.  Even if you want to maintain your routine, it will be more difficult and you won’t be as focused or as productive as you typically are.  During periods of extreme stress or a major crisis, our minds are on high alert.  For the next 3-6 months, limit the number of added projects you give yourself, until you know how the tragedy will actually impact you.
  5. Escape For Awhile In A Healthy Manner.  Get lost in a good book.  Take bike rides down a trail.  Go to the beach or mountains or another peaceful place for the day.  Listen to positive, uplifting music.  Just 20 min a day of “escaping” can reduce anxiety and physical symptoms from emotional pain.
  6. Seek Professional Help From Someone Who is Objective.  I have many clients who are depended on by their family members to be the “strong one”.  Even the strong ones, need someone they can lean on for support.  There is something safe and secure about meeting with a professional marriage & family therapist or mental health counselor to help you sort through the events of a tragedy and provide a light to the end of a dark tunnel that occurs when you experience a major tragedy.

My prayers are continuously directed towards those who have lost a loved one, that God would provide them with peace and support during this difficult time in their lives.

Sandi Burchfield, MS, IMT-1129

Marriage & Family Therapist

#PrayForOrlando

5 Tips For A Healthy Marriage

  • Reclaim your date night. Remember staying up all night talking on the phone, or sitting outside in your spouse’s car – just to hear his/her voice a little longer? Did you used to play cards or take the Jet Ski’s out on Saturdays? Don’t give up your date night, just because you have children or because all the bills are due. It is a NECESSITY to learn to play together again. At least once a month, set an appointment to have a date together. Do something you enjoyed before getting married, try something new, and go out to dinner without the kids. And call it a date. Get dressed up or dressed down, whatever fits your personality. The good thing about dates: they don’t have to be costly. Just something fun, something energetic, just the two of you.

 

  • Boundaries with the Children and Careers. Though the economy is not looking great, don’t go into panic mode chasing the almighty dollar. Your spouse needs your time and attention. Though the children need enriching activities and have important sporting events, they need to see their parents love each other more. Set a limit on how many hours you will work this week. Put the children to bed at an earlier time or enforce quiet time in their rooms after a specific hour. Make sure you have at least 30 minutes of quality time together so you can listen and empathize with your marriage partner’s day. Also, share things with your husband because, he is not a mind reader like the romance novels would lead you to believe. There is a reason why they call those books “Fiction.” Getting to know each other doesn’t stop at “I do”.

 

  • Allow Each Other To Have Some Space. It isn’t a bad thing to have individual interests. If he wants to play golf, she can spend the time catching up on some shopping with the girls. Make sure to practice appropriate boundaries by sharing your individual interests with the same sex (men go out with male friends; women go out with female friends). Don’t be surprised if you both start to appreciate having new things to share with each other. The old cliché “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” may ring true after you have shared a day apart from one another.

 

  • Spice Up the Intimate Moments. Have fun giving each other kisses or long embraces, and listen to your kids say, “Ewww, gross!” Send the children to grandma’s, or allow them to spend the night with a trusted friend, so you can rekindle the romance in your home. Try new positions, take a bath together, get out the soft music and scented candles. Men, if you prepare your wives, I can almost guarantee she’ll return the favor before the night is over.

 

  • Fight fair. This can be much more difficult than it sounds. Expect to have disagreements or to get angry at each other when things donot go as planned. But do NOT call each other hurtful names, do NOT say “I don’t love you or I’m going to leave”, and do NOT fight in front of the children if possible. Before you embrace an argument, think about whether or not it is worth the energy. Does it really matter if it was you or him that forgot to turn out the lights or should you save your energy for discussing something that is important like not forgetting to pick up Jane from school again? Remember to pick your battles. Life will go on if the electric bill goes up a few dollars, but will be detrimental if you neglect your parental responsibilities.

IMG_7478This article on marriage advice was written by Sandi Burchfield, M.S., MFT, IMT-1129

http://www.familylifecounselingcenter.com

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