Jeff Yalden has grieved with so many families over the years, and with each devastating loss, the heartache and pain – the very idea of trying to be a source of hope and comfort only compounds the sobering realization that teen suicide epidemic continues to grow.
Youth Suicide and Mental Health has become Jeff’s calling. His mission. His life. Jeff understands mental illness because he lived with it and didn’t realize the depth of his issues in relation to his mental illness. Over the years, it became obvious that mental illness was bigger than Jeff had realized and the moment he addressed his mental health, he accepted it, and started working on living healthy while living with mental illness, everything changed for him. With that realization, Jeff is a new man and has dedicated his life to helping our teens and our school communities.
Suicide Prevention in Schools
Mental health is not just a family issue anymore. It’s an economic issue that could become the biggest public health crisis of our time. It’s a responsibility on our communities and our schools are quickly seeing that they have to get involved.
Jeff loves our teachers and believes in education. He knows that addressing mental health in schools is asking a lot of our teachers and educators who might not know about mental health. This puts
a lot of stress on our schools, but Jeff says,
“It’s okay to not know about mental health as a teacher. You are a teacher. You teach kids. Your subject area is second. The relationship you have with your students is the most important part of addressing mental illness with students. You know first. You then refer the student to the school counselors. You’ve bridged the gap between a student not talking and having the opportunity to talk. You did what we need to get our youth to do – YOU GOT THEM TALKING. As a teacher just feel comfortable in building and maintaining relationships with your students. You make such a difference.”
Schools need not be afraid to talk about mental health and teen suicide. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s a conversation that needs to be happening.
When you have the “I am alone” and the “I am a burden,” – that creates the DESIRE FOR SUICIDE – which becomes the capability for suicide over a period of time. The capability for suicide is acquired largely through repeated exposure to painful and provocative events.. This results in habituation and, in turn, a higher tolerance for pain and a sense of fearlessness in the face of death.
Habituation is a fancy term for getting used to something.
But, there is a step between “I am alone” and “I am a burden” that needs to be addressed.
Self-Harm is not just cutting, which we mostly know. Self-Harm can be many things such as hitting your head against the wall, scratching, pulling hair, reckless behavior, self-medicating to include vaping and juuling, and more.
Why Teens Cut: Self-Harm
Watch Jeff’s video on why teens cut (Click Here).
In all of Jeff’s work in school communities with teens and talking to teens, with school counselors and administration and talking to school counselors and administration, Jeff has come to realize teens don’t want to die. They want an end to their pain. They want some control. They’re lost, confused, and lacking trusted resources and trusted significant relationships with adults.
Teens today can’t find a solution to their problems in the here and the now (that’s where they live). They see the solution is so far out there that they can’t solve it now and move forward.
Remember: Today’s teens live in the here and the now.
Teens don’t know what they don’t know – and there is no way for them to know what the future can hold.
And today’s teenagers – the Generation Z kids born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s – are the first teenagers to not know what’s it like to grow up without a smartphone.
Let’s look at this:
As much as we say suicide is because of this or suicide is because of that – it’s bullying, it’s cyber-bullying, it’s this, it’s that – suicide is rarely the result of one thing – but one thing can certainly be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The reality is that 90 percent of teen suicides go back to mental illness – and if you think about today’s teens – two of the biggest challenges that we have are coping skills and problem-solving skills.
Jeff finds that teenagers have a really tough time communicating – sharing their feelings – trusting in the circle of adults in their life – and so – when you ask Jeff, “Hey Jeff – what is the greatest thing that you can give teenagers today,“he don’t even hesitate. He says, “SELF-ESTEEM and RELATIONSHIPS.”
Teen Mental Health: Three Omnipotent Things
Jeff speaks about three things teens need everyday. Sleep, better nutrition, and more activity and social engagement.
- SLEEP – 8 hours per day.
- NUTRITION – Less sugar and more water. More protein and less carbs. Sugar and depression related.
- MORE ACTIVITY/MORE SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT
These three things play a significant role in one’s mental health.
Generation Z – the young people born after 1995 – are more likely to experience mental health issues than their Millennial predecessors.
Today’s adolescents are at even greater risk of mental health problems – and so you keep asking the questions “Why are today’s teens worse off than the Millennials?”
And then, “Why are today’s adolescents in worse shape than Generation Z?”
2012: The Start of the Smartphone Evolution for Today’s Youth
Let’s look at 2012. That is the time when smartphones surged into the lives of our teens – and with that, in 2012 – over 50 percent of our teens had smartphones, so they started to get more invested in social media, YouTube, the Internet, group texting, and more.
In 2015 – they say over 73 percent of our teens had access to a smartphone. Today – 2020 – over 90 percent of our kids have immediate access to a smartphone or internet. 100% of today’s youth have access through school, local library, or through someone else.
From 2012- to present day – the smartphone has become something that is very much more common in the lives of our teens. Not just more common, but more widely-used for longer periods of time.
In Jeff’s book, “Teen Suicide: The ‘WHY’ Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic” he says, “If you spend more than 4-5 hours a day on your smartphone you are more than 70% more likely to have major depression in your life.”
Teen Suicide symptoms today include “Feeling Alone” and “Feelings of being a Disappointment or a Burden.” When a teen feels alone and a burden they start to think and engage in self-harm.
Teen Suicide has surged nearly 34% – and that’s where we are at. These are alarming numbers causing great concern.
Smartphones are to Blame for Teen Suicide
Jeff isn’t blaming smartphones and saying smartphones are the cause of today’s suicide epidemic. What Jeff is saying is that today’s technology is being given to our youth when our youth aren’t capable of understanding the consequences of their emotions of being so “ON” all the time. The dopamine effect causes us to want more and the child then becomes dependent on (or addicted) to their devices.
Our devices are becoming our connection to the world and we’ve lost one’s heart to another person’s heart as a way of communicating. This is having a great affect on our youth and their lack of problem solving skills, communication skills, and coping skills are severely being affected by devices.
Today’s Youth . . .
Moving forward – 2012-to present day. More teens are depressed. Greater anxiety. Trouble communicating. Withdrawal. Social isolation – hopelessness – and seeing suicide as the solution to their problems. Inability to communicate. Problem solve. Struggle with coping. Everything is the end of the world. Reacting and impulsive.
So you ask, “WHY?”
All signs point to the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.
As more and more teens gained access to a smartphone, more and more teens were feeling depressed – and suicide kept increasing in great numbers.
It’s important to note here that surveys say that from 2010-2015 – the time doing homework barely budged.
Why is this important?
It’s important because it rules out academic pressure as the cause of teen suicide.
So – here’s Jeff’s theory:
Smartphone? If you are on your smartphone four to five hours a day or more, you are 70 percent more likely to have mental health issues.
Going by these numbers – I think it’s pretty safe to say that time spent online affects a teen’s overall mental health.
Now – could it be that instead of time online causing depression – maybe depression causes more time online, one might ask.
And so – these studies show that this is unlikely.
Jeff’s Theory: Depression might cause people to spend more time online – but why did depression increase so much after 2012?
More teens became depressed for an unknown reason, and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.
What’s missing here?
You might say that online time doesn’t affect mental health directly – but it still adversely affects mental health in indirect ways – especially if time online interrupts time for other activities. That’s that social engagement – that’s the other activities with friends and family – less smartphones, social media – more time problem-solving, coping, and one-on-one communication.
Again – going back to self-esteem – it’s safe to say that a teen spending time online interrupts time for activities where they could be building their self-esteem – (Remember: coping skills, problem-solving, communication, etc.) – life skills that are essential to their growth as a young adult.
Teens and the Lack of Social Interaction
Teens spend much less time today interacting with friends and family. Without interaction, our moods start to suffer, and depression follows.
The Smartphone has changed so much that teens as a result of too much time have two dominant feelings: “I am alone and I am a burden.” Those two things lead to sadness. They lead to depression – and the “I am alone and I am a burden” – isolation is also a big factor in suicide ideation – better known as suicidal thoughts.
Let’s look at the amount of time being alone – the amount of time where you feel you are a burden. That brings the desire for suicide – Jeff’s theory on teen suicide is starting to make more sense – and the capability for suicide grows out of repeated exposure to painful or fearsome experiences.
Now – this is starting to make a lot more sense when we look at time online – teens are more likely to be depressed, while making friends and engaging socially and in-person builds their self-esteem.
In 2012, this is what started to happen:
Online versus in-person social engagement.
- Online harms mental health.
- In-person social engagement benefits mental health.
Remember: 90 percent of suicides. At the core, at the foundation are mental health issues.
The solution seems to be clear:
If less screen time can help lessen your child’s chances of falling into depression, then the danger of doing nothing can be high. Think about the possible consequences. If we do nothing, then we’re taking a huge risk.
“I am alone” is like, “I don’t have meaningful relationships.
“I am a burden.” This is about expectations.
Today’s teens have greater stress. They have the expectations that might not be realistic. They have the fear of not knowing who they are or what they want to do. That’s the “I am a burden.” And the desire for suicide – that’s the pain lasting and building up.
Also – the Dopamine effect from the social media, the Internet and YouTube – it’s like – “I want more, I want more, I want more…”
When you are spending four, five hours a day on your smartphone, the Dopamine effect is more and more and more – versus one-to-two-hours – you have less of the “I want more, I want more.”
So what does all of this lead to?
Our teens are on 24/7 – 365. This is leading to depression, isolation – a feeling that they are not worthy. They want to be validated with “likes” on social media – and social isolation is arguably the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal thoughts.
Social isolation leads to loneliness, social withdrawal, living alone with little social support – living in non-intact families. All of this really isn’t helping.
It comes down to vigilant parenting, less time online, more social and emotional learning – mindfulness practice – meditation – reducing the stigma of mental health, and letting people know that it is OK to ask for help.
Self-esteem: Again, social interaction, sleep, health, exercise, nutrition, activity.
Self-esteem: Involvement, communication, coping skills, problem-solving skills.
Self-esteem: You’re not afraid to ask for help.
Social Isolation: “I am alone. I am a burden.”
When our young people are interacting, they are learning. They’ve got friends. They are figuring themselves out – their identities – they are growing – they have trust – companionship – problem-solving and coping skills – laughter and better communication.
Smartphone. Addiction. Isolation. Sadness. Loneliness. Lack of growth, The Dopamine effect. Diminished life skills.
Teen Mental Health and Education
If we could focus more on social and emotional learning, relationships between trusted adults and students, Jeff thinks we would do an awesome job of getting our kids to spend less time on their smartphones and more time interacting. Our schools and our churches need to get more involved and comfortably involved talking about teen mental health and suicide prevention.