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

 

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