“Jeff is an amazing speaker and his message is powerful. I heard him for the first time in Atchison,KS after our community suffered from some very tragic losses. Jeff was amazing and helped with the healing process. My high school son heard Jeff speak and his comment to me was “that was powerful mom.” I brought Jeff to my district this past fall. Again, his message was powerful and he touched the lives of many. Jeff you are amazing!!! Keep fighting the fight!” – Julie Crum, Principal
Addressing Teen Suicide & Prevention in SchoolsAddressing teen suicide in schools is becoming more of a concern everyday. Our school administrators are understanding that they need to bring this more attention, but the concern is how to do it in a safe and non-triggering manner that is educational, informative, and provides help for those in need. Without the proper community resources understand the schools are lacking the correct resources to address students in need of third party professional care. Nonetheless, at the onset, it’s about relationships and getting our youth to talk. It’s important that our students learn about mental health from the same trusted adults they learn everyday from. Full applause to every administrator, teacher, coach, student, and parent that supports this and is willing to address the topic of teen mental health. Bravo! We have a lot of work to do, but let’s not shy away from the topic of Teen Mental Health.
When the Conversation HappensLet’s get acquainted with a few things regarding the conversation about teen mental health, teen suicide, or mental wellness. First, the conversation don’t need to be in crisis moments. The conversations don’t need to be depressing either. It’s really important that we all get educated and know what to do when the conversation happens in real time. Even before the conversation starts, we need to notice the red flags that will lead us to have the conversation. Listen, nothing to be worried about. Nothing to want to shy away from. We are adults and we have experience and wisdom. Talk to your teens, students, youth in the same manner you talk about your subject or a current event. You are the trusted and significant adult. They’re going to listen to you. With everything, approach this conversation with compassion, empathy, and be really present with your heart to theirs. This moment is a moment that can shape their life forever and you are that light the individual needs. Give yourself permission to know you can and will say the right thing. Know that you listening and being present is what matters most in this moment.
You Might Not Be QualifiedStop right there. You might not be trained in mental health as a counselor or therapist, but you are trusted as a teacher or you’ve been given the honor of being a mom or dad, coach, aunt, uncle, youth pastor, or some other significant adult. You are qualified in these moments of crisis where a young person trusts in you. What you do in these moments matter most. Your number one job is to cherish this relationship right here and right now. Listen. Care. Be the source that bridges this individual with the person they need to be with to get the help they need. Think parents. Think school counselor. Think professional mental health care. Put this in order. First, get in touch with your school counselor or school administration. You’ve done your job. They will contact parents and let’s hope the parents do the right thing. In the meantime, you’ve done more than what a qualified person can do. A qualified person wasn’t there when the individual needed that trusting and significant adult. Believe in you. However, do remember you are not the therapist and your job isn’t to fix the individual. You being present, compassionate, and giving your attention to the situation is saving the person’s life and giving them hope, permission, and the right advise of what is next.
Warning Signs of Teen SuicideThe warning signs associated with teen suicide should be learned by every adult and student. This should be common place in today’s schools. Just knowing the warning signs alone can make the conversation happen before the individual reaches out. You will know when to intervene. Active listening skills should be a staff development workshop as well as a class for students. This way, anyone hearing or seeing warning signs can intervene when they witness those signs that are a “Cry for help.” The more education we receive on teen suicide behaviors and how to respond the greater chances we have of saving lives and getting people the help they need.
Outside ResourcesAll teachers and school personnel should be given the outside resources that are available within your community. Make it available to all teachers in a booklet and also add it to your school website resources page. Having this information on hand and readily accessible shows genuine concern for your students and also offers a sense of hope in facing life’s challenges.
School Policy on Teen SuicideEvery school should have their policy on teen suicide available along with the resources. This policy should cover the basics of what to look for such as the warning signs, symptoms, myths and facts, clues, and more. This should be written with the help of school counselors, mental health professionals, and should be talked about with all staff present so they’re comfortable in the policies and procedures if and when they find themselves in a conversation or a crisis. Know the policies and procedures and have them written down and provided to all staff. Knowing what to do and how to respond appropriately to suicidal behavior and a crisis or a threat in school or out of school is important to saving a life before an individual reacts emotionally. This knowledge will not only help students and staff members, but it will also possibly avoid lawsuits.
Teen Suicide CluesAll teachers and staff members should be aware of clues that will show the warning signs. Take all signs seriously. If you see something you should say something. If you know something you should do something. You generally have four different types clues that something is wrong:
- Direct Verbal Clues
- Indirect Verbal Clues
- Behavioral Clues
- Situational Clues
- Talking about suicide, hurting themselves, death, or dying
- Seeking access to firearms or pills
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
- Having severe mood swings
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Sleeping all the time or having issues with sleep
- Uncontrolled rage or agitation
- Self-destructive and risky behavior
- Giving away personal belongings
- Telling people goodbye for seemingly no reason
Remember people at any age can experience suicidal thoughts. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers.
Other Factors to Consider
- Gender: Men commit suicide successfully 4.5 times more often than women, but women attempt suicide 2-4 times more than men.
- Ethnicity: African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans have lower rates than Euro-Americans.
- However, Native Americans have rates 1.6-4.2 times the national average.
- Sexual orientation: Homosexual teens are three times more likely to attempts suicide than heterosexual teens.
- Previous suicide attempts: Of all completed suicides, 10-40% have previously attempted suicide.
Ways to InterveneKnowing the policies and procedures will help immensely. Follow the guidelines accordingly and be confident to step into action. Be prepared to drop everything to take time to deal with the situation. Take every complaint and feeling the individual expresses seriously. Do not try to minimize the problem by telling the person everything they have to live for. This will only increase feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Be calm, supportive, and nonjudgmental. Listen actively and encourage self-disclosure. It is okay to acknowledge the reality of suicide as a choice, but do not “normalize” suicide as a choice. Assure the individual they’re doing the right thing by confiding in you. Do not express discomfort with the situation. Your willingness to discuss it will show the person you care and you want to help. Stay with the person. Never leave him/her alone until further action has been taken. You have done everything you can by just being in the moment, listening and being non-judgemental.
Suicidal Ideation on PhoneIf you are talking to someone via phone, do not hang up; get someone else to call for help on another line. Be on speaker and be texting someone immediately. Don’t overreact until you know the severity, but take all signs seriously. Get someone to the person in distress immediately. Recognize that talking about suicide will not plant the idea! In reality, talking about suicide reduces their anxiety.
Show You Care and Want To HelpListen and ask questions. Show that you are paying attention and that you care. Ask direct, straightforward questions. (“Are you thinking of suicide?”) Be aware that students will usually respond “no.” This is not your place to challenge them or wonder if they’re being truthful. Remember, you are the person that got them talking and the next step will be with the mental health professionals or third party psychiatric care and evaluation. Without you intervening here they may not get the help they need.
- What has happened to make life so difficult?
- What has been keeping you alive so far?
- Are you thinking of suicide?
- Do you have a suicide plan?
- Do you use alcohol or drugs?
- When you think about yourself and the future, what do you visualize?
- Is the means available to you? Remove the means if possible.
- What do you think the odds are that you will kill yourself?
The SLAP MethodDetermining the severity of the risk isn’t your call to make. The situation needs to be addressed with the parents, the school counselors, or a third party mental health professional from your conversation. That includes you calling 911, school administration, school counselor, parents, family members, etc. It’s important that you have this information though because it needs to be documented and shared when you make the call. S = How (S) pecific are the details of the plan? L = What is the (L) evel of lethality of the plan? (Gun vs. aspirin) A = What is the (A) vailability of the proposed method? P = What is the (P) roximity to helping resources? Be positive and supportive in your approach. Help the individual student see that what they’re feeling in this moment is temporary and that the crisis will pass. Just get the individual to breathe. Let the individual know they’re okay and they will be okay. Validate them for sharing and coming forward. Share about that situations we deal with are temporary, but suicide is forever. It’s okay to say this in the conversation. Just remember, you are not a trained therapist and you can’t fix their heart. Just care and be there. In the here and the now, your job is to understand, be compassionate, empathetic, and lead the individual to the right person in the moment of crisis. I can’t repeat that enough.
Support Groups and People to HelpOften an individual contemplating suicide is unaware of the different support groups such as (e.g., counselors, family, friends) that are available. Or, they feel they can’t talk to them or they don’t know how to talk to them. Mention the individual’s family as a source of strength, but if they reject the idea, back away quickly. For teens, the source of pain is usually either the family or the peer group. When you know which it is, you are in a better position to help or refer for help. Use constructive questions to help separate and define the person’s problems and remove some of their confusion. To help the person understand their situation, use active listening and respond empathically. (“It sounds like you feel…”). Allow them to talk and you listen.
Being Prepared in Moments of CrisisIf it’s a crisis situation and you need to make crisis management decisions in the moment. Be decisive. Rapid decision making on the part of the intervener is extremely important. If you need someone to help find out who the individual’s trusted and significant adult is and call for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Example: “So, I know you’re really close with your math teacher, Ms. __________. Would you like me to call and see if she is available?”
Moving Forward in the Moment of CrisisReport the incident to the appropriate school personnel. Again, this is school counselor(s) or school administration. Here again, know the the proper protocol. Know policy and procedure so you move forward according to your school districts guidelines.
Never Leave a Suicidal Person AloneBefore leaving the individual make sure they verbally promise they will be safe and won’t make a forever decision – Commit Suicide. If you can, get the student to sign something that you had written up. Make sure this is the last resort before leaving a student alone in this situation. Teen Suicide and acting on impulse is like what butter is to bread. Know that their behavior and the crisis situation they’re feeling time is of the utmost importance. Do not leave the person alone . . . UNLESS, and this is a big UNLESS, you absolutely have no other choice and you’ve agreed with the person in writing they’ll be okay for the night. If you can’t get hold of school personnel such as counselor or school administration, call the students parents or guardians. Please make a decisive decision for what is in the best interest of the student and their well-being. Save a life first. Depending on the time of day and the whereabouts of this moment, you have to act and do accordingly. Do not keep the person’s threat a secret, but do respect their privacy. Be confident and think through the situation in what is the best, safest, outcome for the individual.
Actions to AvoidResponding in Crisis Situations isn’t easy, but know that in the moment you need to breathe and relax. It’s going to be okay, but here are some things to avoid. Make no promises. This is a situation where it is never appropriate to promise confidentiality. Do not ignore or lessen the suicidal threat. Avoid sounding shocked at the suicidal thoughts. Do not stress the shock or pain that the suicide may cause their family before you are certain that is not exactly what the student hopes to accomplish. Don’t moralize. Do not argue with a student who may be suicidal. You may not only lose the debate, but also the person. Don’t criticize, ridicule, or infer that the person is crazy. Don’t be concerned by long periods of silence. Allow the student time to think. Do not ignore your own intuitions about a student’s behavior or changes. Do not try to handle the situation alone. Do not attempt in-depth counseling. Be present. Be patient. Listen.
Teen Suicide: Additional InformationIf a suicide does occur, it is essential that the students be provided with accurate facts about the suicide as soon as possible. This information should be given to all students simultaneously. It is necessary to provide sufficient time for discussion and also support for the students. Be careful here, because you need to know what the family/parents are saying. This is also a moment where the school administration may not have had time to brief the school staff. If this is the case, the teachers are already in class and will have to address the situation with their classes. Another reason why it’s important to address teen suicide: behaviors and responding in moments of crisis. Staff members want to know what to say and how to support their students. Give them permission that they’re capable of having this conversation and that it’s okay to speak from their heart. Be gentle, listen, it’s okay to show your emotions. This is real and the kids want real. They want their teachers to be real and not to sugarcoat situation or events. The students will look to you for guidance and support. It’s okay to just say, “I don’t know right now. I’m shocked. I have to process this and breathe. Right now, that’s all we can all do.” It’s okay to say, “I’m sorry. This really sucks!” Allow them to talk and express their feelings. Getting them to talk openly and together is the best and safest thing as they’re all together. Keep the students in school. School is the safest place for everyone to be. Together.
Teen Suicide Statistics
- Of the people that commit the act of suicide, 90% have showed signs that indicated they needed help. Most have told someone within the previous couple weeks that they were thinking about hurting themselves.
- In the past 30 years, teen suicide has increased 300%.
- Among children between the ages of 10-14, suicide has gone up 112%.
- For every completed suicide, there are between 300 attempts.
- Suicidal adolescents are a diverse group. Be aware of the ripple effect.
- Research shows an increase in adolescent suicide following media coverage of a high profile suicide.
Jeff Yalden: Teen Mental Health and High School Assemblies
Why Teens Self-Harm
Let’s talk about why teens self-harm so you as a trusted adult in a teens life can intervene and get the teen the help they’re in need of. We need to be more open about teen mental health in our homes and this is a conversation we need to be having in our schools.
It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of teens in distress and how best to intervene as their trusted adults.
The Consequences of Self-Harm:Understand that the consequences of this self-harm behavior goes beyond physical harm. It includes depression, anxiety, stress, overwhelming feels, social isolation – isolation is toxic, and can certainly be an increased risk for a suicide attempt. Intervening early can save a life or a future of negative coping and problem-solving skills.
Self-Harm in our CommunitiesSelf-harm is a highly prevalent behavior in our middle school, high schools, on college campuses, and in our communities. It really highlights the fact that we really need to address this behavior and start the conversations in our schools. Our teachers, coaches, and school personnel are so important and vital in the conversation around teen mental health, self-harm, and suicide prevention.
Self-Harm is the Primer to SuicideResearchers have speculated that self-harm might prime teens for suicide as long as they’re able to overcome the fear and pain that comes from self-harm. When Jeff ask teens about self-harm and why they haven’t made the forever decision yet, they say, “It would hurt too much.” Or, “I couldn’t do that to my friends, family.” These are major red flags. Jeff says, if a student is self-harming (cutting) and not getting the help they need then two things start to happen:
- The individual starts to tolerate the pain
- The individual starts to justify why taking their life is the right thing to do
Scientists Describe Self-Harm
Non-suicidal self-injury is commonly defined by scientists as a deliberate discrete destruction of body tissue without the intent of suicide.You’re trying to destroy your body in some way without trying to kill yourself. A wide range of behaviors fit this description of why teens self-harm, including cutting, burning and carving of the skin, and sticking yourself with pins and needles. It’s also pulling hair, punching themselves, and and it’s also reckless behavior and self-medicating – vaping, drugs, alcohol, pot, and more harmful drugs. Our youth usually start self-harming themselves between the ages of 11 and 15. Be mindful it is happening at a much earlier age and also at an older age. Know why teens are self-harming and by knowing why you have a better chance of getting the teen the help they need. Surveys that suggest self-harm in teens is somewhere between 4% and 50%. If we are looking at self-medicating and self-harm together, Jeff says those that self-medicate are dealing with issues and they’re using self-medicating to cope. If this is the case, we are looking at much more than 50%.
Self-Harm: Increased Risk of SuicideThere is also some evidence that people who engage in non-suicidal self-injury are at an increased risk of suicide. The evidence mostly links strongest with those patients in psychiatric care. When Jeff comes to a school community and address teens in one-on-ones here is two feelings he most commonly hears from students about why they’re self-harming. These are two symptoms of teen suicide behavior and warning signs of mental illness.
Self-Harm Thoughts Come From:
- Feelings of Being Alone – Teens feel they lack meaningful relationships.
- Disappointment – Teens feel they’re a disappointment to family, friends, teachers, coaches. They don’t want to burden you with their problems.
Visit Jeff’s Theory on Teen Suicide:A large majority of teens who report non-suicidal self-injury are not trying to end their life, they’re trying to cope with life and we know that teens today are struggling with coping skills and problem solving skills. In this conversation when the teen is open about their self-harm, they’re asking for help. Our youth struggle with asking for help because they’re afraid to ask, they don’t know, or, they’re afraid to talk because they feel they will be judged.
Coping with EmotionsTeens engage in self-injury as a way to cope with their emotions, particularly the negative ones. Most teens that talk about self-harm say that it works. That self-harm makes them feel better. It calms them down and brings a sense of relief. When Jeff is meeting with a teen who is opening sharing their self-harm, he says, “Self-harm is a good thing in that you’re recognizing it isn’t the healthy way of asking or getting help.” The teen is often shocked by what Jeff is saying. He makes sure that the individual fully understands what he is saying and what he means. He helps them to understand they want help and they’re acting out. To know that self-harm isn’t healthy and to want to deal with emotions in a more healthy manner is what Jeff applauds in his talks with teens. With the right help and trusted relationships, the teen will open up and see that asking for help is okay and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. If you work with teens in any capacity it’s a great responsibility and privilege to help our youth deal with their thoughts and emotions in a more healthy manner. If we don’t teach our youth in their young years, their unhealthy coping skills will manifest and appear later and throughout your life causing greater issues and problems.
But Why Self-Harm?Self-harm is soothing. Self-harm makes the teen feel better in the moment they’re self-harming. Self-harm releases endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals that relieve pain and can produce euphoria in a way similar to a runner getting that endorphin effect, running. People use self-harm in a ways that other people use drugs or alcohol, food, gambling, or sex . . . to try to feel better in the hear and the now. Young people live in the here and the now and that is a challenge of understanding and getting across to our youth is that life isn’t in the here and the now. Consider this, many people also self-harm as a form of punishment.
- relieve tension or stop bad feelings
- feel something, even if it’s pain; The individual wants control
- communicate with others to show they are distressed
- get others to stop bothering them
It’s Prime Time for Teens to Engage in Self-HarmWhy do teens self-harm? Well, from a development perspective, it’s the perfect storm for self-harm as teens are growing through these stages of life. Navigating personal relationships, the brains and bodies maturing and going through major changes. Their hormones, emotions, puberty, self identity, and more . . . This is prime time as they’re living 24/7 and simply are trying to breathe with how fast life is passing by and they’re trying to keep up with it. Part of the brain involved in emotion, the amygdala, and part of the brain involved in higher thinking, the cortex, are not fully connected, and as a result, they don’t communicate as well as they do later in life. The teen brain doesn’t mature until they’re about 24-25 years old. It’s very common for teens, particularly early adolescents, to feel high levels of emotion and really not have many skills to deal with the emotion. Teens are more reactionary and don’t understand that in a matter of time answers will appear and what they’re dealing with in the now will be okay in a couple of days, or even in a couple of hours. That is why Jeff always says, “Take Time To Think.” When the brains are fully developed, they may learn other more positive methods for coping with their emotions, such as talking to a friend, exercise, or ask a professional for help. Self-injury does seem to be a behavior many teens grow out of, with around 80 percent reporting that they stopped injuring themselves within five years of starting. That is good news. However, let’s not ignore the fact that we need to engage in the conversations. From a practical point of view, self-harm is an easily accessible behavior for teens who might have a hard time getting a hold of drugs and alcohol. Let’s get to them before they start self-medicating and engaging in a deeper form of self-harm that they’ll be in denial about.
Gender Differences in Why Teens Self-HarmResearch once suggested that self-harm is a more common behavior among girls. More recent research says there is more of an even split between boys and girls. Jeff says that today he thinks self-harm is higher amongst boys than it is girls. However, keep in mind, girls and boys might use different methods for hurting themselves and some methods are more noticeable than others. Example, girls are more likely to cut while boys are more likely to use more masculine ways such as reckless behavior or burning themselves. Girls look for more feminine ways and boys look for more manly or masculine ways of self-harm.
Treating Self-HarmThose that self-harm are more than likely to overcome their behaviors without seeking treatment, but treatment early on is the best help they can receive. It’s important to discuss this with the teen and the family and help them find more positive coping skills. This does need to be reported and dealt with in a non-judgmental and safe manner as to not upset the individual. Having a record on hand and reporting the situation will take the burden off you the trusted adult who intervened. Consider this . . . Don’t overreact. Don’t get mad. Don’t fix it. Don’t punish the child if you are the parent or guardian. This is very serious and a moment in the child’s life that you can earn their trust and respect in crisis situations. Let them know unconditionally you care about him or her and are willing to help in any way. Validate their thoughts and feelings, but let them know there are safe ways of handling your emotions and you are there to help without judgement. Anyone who has engaged in self-harm, even if it’s just one time, has reported more challenges and difficulties in their life. Psychologically and socially. So, if you know a student or a teenager and they’re self-harming, it is imperative to talk with the individual and get them the right help.
Teen Mental Health Speaker: Jeff YaldenJeff Yalden is highly regarded as one of the top mental health experts in the world primarily focused on education and school communities working with teens, school administration, counselors, teachers, staff, parents and community leaders. He’s a four-time best-selling author including his latest book, TEEN SUICIDE: The WHY Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic. His Podcast: Mental Health and Motivation continues to attract thousands of new subscribers every month for his direct talk and influence on today’s mental health conversations for teens and adults. You can learn more about Jeff Yalden by visiting his website – www.JeffYalden.com. You can also learn more about Jeff’s Suicide Prevention Online Course for School Communities and Parents, Jeff Yalden University, and follow Jeff on YouTube and Social Media by clicking on the links below: Online Suicide Prevention Course for School Communities Book: Teen Suicide: They WHY Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic Facebook Page School Resources Join Mailing List: Text YALDEN to 66866
The Catholic Church and Suicide Prevention?Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church invited teen mental health and suicide prevention expert, Jeff Yalden to Fishers, Indiana to speak truth to parents and the congregation about today’s youth and the suicide epidemic plaguing our country. For more than two hours, Jeff mesmerized the nearly 500 people that came from all over the outskirts of Indianapolis to hear his straight talk about today’s teens growing up in the digital age – and the potential adverse effect these devices are having on them. Jeff asked one question before speaking: “What is the Catholic religion’s stance on suicide among its congregation?” Jeff wanted to make sure that he was going to be safe talking about teen suicide in the church, and it turned out that he was. His point of contact and the pastor, Father Dan, were incredible human beings – and they sat with him for an hour before people started arriving. They had a great discussion about God, the church, the people, faith and so much more. “I was so honored and excited after spending this time with Pastor Dan and his leadership team,” Jeff said. The Catholic Church has changed over the years when it comes to suicide. According to theology of the Catholic Church, suicide is considered a grave matter, an element required for mortal sin. They believed that one’s life is the property of God and that one’s body is a gift to the world. To destroy life is to wrongly assert dominion over what God wanted for his child – and this act of taking one’s life was held as despair over salvation.
Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. – Catechism of the Catholic Church Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”As of most recently, the official Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that the person who committed suicide may not always be fully right in their mind, and thus not 100 percent morally culpable: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” Theological author Jonathan MS Pierce puts it this way: “The Catholic Church prays for those who have committed suicide, knowing that Christ shall judge the deceased fairly and justly. The Church also prays for the close relations of the deceased, that the loving and healing touch of God will comfort those torn apart by the impact of the suicide.” In days past, people who made the forever decision to commit suicide were denied a Christian funeral. That’s beyond harsh – and Pope Pius X said, “In the Fifth Commandment God forbids suicide, because man is not the master of his own life no more than of the life of another. Hence the Church punishes suicide by deprivation of Christian burial.” Today, thankfully, it’s understood that God is ultimately the final judge of people places and things – and the Catholic Church has lightened up on its stance on suicide. It’s understood today that God ultimately is the final judge of people, places, and things and thus the Catholic Religion has lightened up its stance on Suicide. National Suicide Prevention Week takes place in September in the United States – where mental health professionals and advocates share tips and advice on suicide prevention – and lay out warning signs, symptoms, myths, facts and more in the hope of stemming the tide and preventing suicide.
Mr. Jarrid Wilson . . . Pastor and Mental Health Advocate Dies by SuicideIn September, pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson took his life. He was only 30. Just a few hours before his forever decision, he tweeted about Jesus’ compassion for the depressed and suicidal: “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.” This was his last and final tweet before he chose to take his life, leaving behind many fans and followers, a wife and two children. This act of selfishness really hurt Jeff and made him very bitter about who advocates for mental health – and especially those who would also call themselves pastors. Jeff is very protective of this conversation – the conversation around suicide and about eliminating the stigma surrounding it – and feels strongly that whomever advocates must be vigilant about doing the work themselves. If someone with a sizable following is sending a message of hope, that person’s responsibility to others is great. If that person decides to die by suicide, this sends a more powerful message than the original one, the implication being that it was all for naught. “It’s been a tough month.” says Jeff. Wilson had been a long-time advocate for mental health. He and his wife founded “Anthem of Hope,” a Christian outreach for the depressed and suicidal. His death followed that of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another young, vibrant evangelical pastor and mental health advocate who committed suicide last year.
Teen Suicide is an Epidemic and The Catholic Church has a ResponsibilityThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] reports that suicide rates among working-age Americans (from 16-64) 34 percent between 2000 and 2016. Among Americans aged 10-24, the spike was even more dramatic – CDC data shows a 50 percent increase in suicides in this group between 2000 and 2017. The suicides of these two pastors highlight this concerning upward trend in suicide, especially among young people – even among those who are part of a Christian community. During his visit with the community at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church, Jeff talked about some things our youth are dealing with today that young people didn’t deal with as few as ten years ago. A key point was the fact that today’s youth are connected 24/7/365 and constantly stressed and anxious – living in a world where they are always comparing their lives to those of others. Jeff says in his book, “Teen Suicide: The WHY Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic” . . . that if you spend more than four to five hours a day on social media or your smartphone you are 70 percent more likely to have major depression in your life. Jeff’s book doesn’t get into the psychological sciences and Catholic spirituality, philosophy and theology. Jeff wrote the book as today’s youth think, reason, and act. It is straightforward and to the point, written in a concrete manner that makes it and easy to understand the depth of teens, their brokenness and why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling. Certainly, one of the driving factors of an increase in suicide among teens and young adults is their constant connectedness to the world through smartphones and the social media platforms, combined with a lack of greater meaning in their lives. According to a 2015 article from the peer-reviewed research journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, “frequent social media use in children and teenagers is associated with poor psychological functioning, as it limits their daily face-to-face interactions, impairing their ability to keep and maintain meaningful relationships.” “The lack of coping skills and problem-solving skills make it very difficult for today’s youth who live in the here and the now to understand that not all things are taken care of in the present moment. Our youth don’t understand that today,” says Yalden. One of the biggest suicide prevention tools that communities of faith can provide, Yalden says, is being full communities of faith, where people feel connected and non-judged, valued, and validated as whole people. Our Churches have to be more involved with families, our youth and more present in our communities – but in non-judgmental ways. Every child needs to have a significant and trusted adult they can reach out to and our churches are filled with so many loving and kind people. Our churches are a great place where a difference can be made immediately. Jeff sends a special thank-you to Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church and to Pastor Dan and his staff for having this conversation. If you are interested in Jeff coming to your Church or School Community, please visit www.JeffYalden.com. Purchase you copy of Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic.
IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELPWe need to teach our young people coping skills and problem-solving skills. My friends, this is a parenting issue, but I think education needs to change. We need to focus more on social and emotional learning. We need to focus on and really build the self-esteem of our children and prepare them for life’s challenges, obstacles and situations. We need to give them the tools to be successful in life. In the meantime, we need adequate mental health care and counseling. We also need more involved parents. We need to teach our young people that it is OK to ask for help without feeling intimidated or wrong for asking. But here’s what I am seeing all too much: When suicide happens, we’re left reacting. We are emotionally reacting. Parents and community are looking to place blame on the school, the administration, or the teachers. “It’s bullying,” it’s that reason, this happened or that happened. “You’re not doing this…” STOP! Suicide is never the result of one thing. I will say that one thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but suicide is never the result of one thing. Also, no administrator is ever given a certificate on how to handle a suicide – whether that suicide is on campus or off campus – whether it happens in the building, outside the building – whether it is an incoming student that is relatively new to the school community or it’s a popular student athlete, adored by everyone. No student loss or suicide is ever the same. They are all different, and how they are handled isn’t really anyone’s business because the school administrator and his or her team has to think about two things – what is in the best interest of the students, and what is in the best interest of the teachers and staff members. Our job as parents is to support their decisions and accept them – especially now. Our job is to rally together and support the school, the teachers, and the administration – not just when we have loss, but every day. Our kids ask two questions, and whether you are a teacher, a coach, a parent or anyone that works with youth – we need to answer these two questions: 1) Can I trust you? 2) Do you care about me? These two questions are the cornerstone of every trusted relationship. Parents – if your if your child needs a trusted adult immediately because they are distraught and emotionally suffering more so than ever before – are you that trusted adult they would go to first? You are either saying “I don’t know,” or “probably not.”
BE THAT TRUSTED ADULTThis is a problem. Parenting today’s young people is a different game than it ever was before. Today, I would never tell a child that I am disappointed in them. The point I am trying to make here is that kids are a parent’s responsibility. Parents need to support the schools, the teachers and the staff – and our teachers and staff need to support our parents. We all need to do what is best to teach, to educate, to inspire and to encourage our youth. We all need to be trusted adults where our kids feel safe, so that they can open up to us without fear of being lectured, judged or even disappointing us. Let me tell you about teen suicide today. There are three reasons why teens choose to end their lives: 1) They feel alone. 2) They feel that they are a burden. 3) They have the desire to end it all. Let me tell you something else: The students that are on the school’s radar get help and they are taken care of. The students that aren’t asking for help are not on the school’s radar. They are the ones we find out about – and as counselors and teachers, we say, “I didn’t know.” How do we help those that aren’t asking for help? We need to do a better job to teach our kids that speaking up and saying something is the right thing to do, because our kids are on the front lines, and they find out first. Our teens want to talk to someone that understands them – someone that understands what they are going through today. They don’t want to be lectured. They want to be listened to and validated that their feelings and emotions are normal. We all need to do a better job, from our government, to our teachers and coaches, and most importantly, our parents. Our teens need to also do a much better job of asking for help when they need help. I can’t emphasize enough, my friends: It’s OK to ask for help.
SUGGESTIONS FOR MOVING FORWARDYoung people: I’d like to invite you to open your heart that you have trusted adults wanting to be there to help you answer life’s toughest questions. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. You matter. Don’t ever think you’re alone. You matter. Don’t ever feel that you are a burden to your family or society. Parents: I need you to know that our youth today are hurting more than you can imagine – and starting earlier to feel emotions than we ever felt our own emotions when we were growing up. It’s almost like society is taking over. Parenting a child has become more difficult, with less parental influence and control. The speed of pain for a child is instant – almost as fast as turning on a light bulb. Bring the family and community priorities back. Remember things like values and morals, kindness and community pride. Love and support our schools and our youth. I challenge you to volunteer, sponsor, and donate. Give from your heart. And whatever rumors might be going around – let’s not participate. Again – suicide is never the result of one thing. Talk to your children honestly. Be careful about sugar-coating the truth, because they know so much more today than we ever did. For all adults, remember this: It takes a village to raise our children. And remember the two questions our children ask every adult in their lives: Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Be approachable so that our children know that they can safely come and talk to you, and that you are not going to judge them for their questions and thoughts. Also know that all our teachers and our school communities are hurting too. Reach out and show your support. A quick message to our teachers, staff and coaches: Thank you. Remember that you make a difference every single day. So many questions yet in many cases there are so few answers – but we are all responsible, and we need to move forward together for our youth and for each other. Think about what is in the best interest of our community. Let’s come together and respect how the school handles this on their end; the decisions need to be made, based on a comfortable balance – a comfortable balance compassionately meeting the needs of our students, their staff, their teachers and the community as a whole – while preserving the ability of the school to fulfill its primary purpose of education. This is a very sad time – a time that affects all of us. It doesn’t have to define our year, though. I’m so, so sorry and I wish I can say more. My friends, suicide and mental health are becoming an economic issue, and we need all of you to speak up. This is the greatest crisis of our time. In the words of a friend of mine: “Choose life. Choose love. Choose you.” I love you, my friends – and I am sorry for your losses. Stay beautiful, Perry Township – and I know you quite well, too. I’m sending prayers and thoughts to all of you. If you are interested in me visiting your school community, please go to www.jeffyalden.com or my nonprofit, www.jeffyaldenfoundation.com